Release Date: Sep 18, 2012
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock
My infatuation with Grizzly Bear was a sudden one. While it seems like it happened in 2009, when my favourite band was probably Idlewild or Animal Collective- neither of them bad to have in that spot, but both for very different reasons- it was more that I felt “Two Weeks” defined them, or that half of Veckatimest was so good the other half could be lost on me, and it was okay that there was an album among my favourites so hard to see out. It seems like a cliché, of course, that it was seeing them on stage that I found myself with a genuine affection for the songs I’d forgotten: the darkening of “Foreground” and “While You Wait for The Others,” and one cut from the wonderful, other-worldly Yellow House I never knew.
On their 2009 breakthrough, Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear made the sound of agitation – squirrelly melodies, antsy rhythms, lyrics full of emotional surgery – into music that was lush, genteel and centered. With Shields, they still sound like Radiohead at a Buddhist retreat, but the songs are more muscular, increasingly driven by drummer Christopher Bear's innate swing. The fussiest moments – the deconstructed orchestrations on "What's Wrong," the Broadway majesty of "Sun in Your Eyes" – are often the sweetest, and rock hugeness is merely one tool in their kit.
"This is a foreground." That was the last lyric left hovering in the mist of Grizzly Bear's breakout 2009 album, Veckatimest, and it's a pretty good image to describe what it's like to listen to one of their records. The key word there is "a," signifying one of many. Whether it's the ethereal, friendly-ghost vibes of Yellow House or Veckatimest's pristine chamber pop, Grizzly Bear create music in deep focus; what's going on in the margins of their songs is just as important and expressive as the center.
Grizzly Bear is a band that has spent its entire career pushing against the boundaries of possibility within its own inherently limited medium of popular song. From the project’s modest beginnings as Ed Droste’s lo-fi home recording project, through Yellow House’s psych-folk experimentations and culminating with Veckatimest’s ornately detailed indie-pop, Grizzly Bear’s defining characteristic throughout has been a hunger for perfection. As more and more of their indie rocking peers drifted into the swirling bloops and bleeps of programmed electronic music, Grizzly Bear remained committed to organic instrumentation, achieving their instantly recognizable sound through the harmonic complexities of detuned guitars and multilayered voices, accentuated by intricate yet understated rhythms and a fluid, nonlinear approach to the structural arrangement of these elements.
Early on, Grizzly Bear unassumingly declared themselves as the reigning kings of a certain sound, a forlorn folk touched with electronic flourishes and a vintage sense of melody and lyricism. It’s an organic sound and one that has been aped (sometimes successfully) by a pack of peers avidly reaching for the crown during Grizzly Bear’s three-year hibernation. But here, the band has returned from the cold with a tight, extraordinary album that is lush and satisfying—yet still in the corners just a little bit sad.
There’s a war going on. Grizzly Bear’s four players are waging it. Together, Chris Taylor, Chris Bear, Ed Droste, and Daniel Rossen are pitting genre against genre and watching the blood splatter. On Shields, they’re finding out what it means for things to coexist–disillusioned human beings, conflicting emotions, converse musical inklings, chaos, order.
These songs are labyrinths. Ethereal, harmonic, beautiful—but labyrinths nonetheless. So, that is to say, Shields is a difficult, rewarding album—one to get lost in. Gorgeous and frayed, the wandering begins with “Sleeping Ute,” an opener with the waking dream feeling of an all-nighter meeting sunrise, with Edward Droste singing off-kilter and mythic riddles of “those countless empty days left me dizzy when I woke,” amongst the slither and slurp of Daniel Rossen’s guitar.
It only takes about 30 seconds of “Sleeping Ute,” the first track on Grizzly Bear’s fourth album Shields, to fully grasp that something has changed with the Brooklyn indie-pop quartet. The breezy, bouncy twinkle of “Two Weeks,” the kind-of sort-of hit that emerged from 2009’s Veckatimest, has all but vanished, and in its place are lots of guitars. Big guitars.
Grizzly Bear were gone for a few years after Veckatimest, but the amount of extracurricular projects they tackled during that time -- Chris Taylor's work with CANT, Daniel Rossen's solo EP Silent Hour/Golden Mile, and the band's reconfiguring of their own songs into the Blue Valentine soundtrack -- means they never really went away. Shields isn't exactly a dramatic return then, which is somehow fitting considering that this is some of the band's most cerebral music. There's nothing here with quite the instant appeal of "Two Weeks" or the aching vulnerability of "Foreground"; instead, most of these songs lie between those two poles.
Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest was — fairly uncontestedly — an absolute triumph for the band's far-reaching, innovative indie rock. For 50 minutes it pulls pop music apart at the seams, only to sew it back together to create something bold, colourful, and imaginative. Often, it feels as if it's forcing sunlight through the cracks of the artwork's angular, stained glass jigsaw, and at its peaks, the window admits defeat.
Anyone looking for a sobering contrast between the British and American rock scenes could alight on the differing career trajectories of indie bands. The firework band seems to have become the norm over here: we now expect artists to appear fully formed, then spend the rest of their careers struggling to appear as interesting as they did at first. Compare this to the fortunes of Grizzly Bear.
Grizzly BearShields[Warp; 2012]By Brendan Frank; September 17, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetAlong with Phoenix’s “1901” and Animal Collective’s “My Girls,” “Two Weeks” was one of the biggest crossover hits of 2009. It saw Grizzly Bear playing a role that longtime fans hadn’t yet seen: that of the pop connoisseur. As beautiful as their music often was, they never seemed like they were striving for accessibility.
Where to begin with Grizzly Bear? A brief primer for the uninitiated: In 2004, Ed Droste released Horn of Plenty, a worryingly good gem of a bedroom-solo-release, and then enlisted Chris Taylor, Chris Bear and Daniel Rossen to become a four-piece and make two of the better records of last decade, Yellow House in 2006 and Veckatimest in 2009. Chances are you caught the GB fever the moment you heard the first four notes of “Two Weeks,” and you’ve been on constant simmer since, until your temperature spiked with this summer’s two singles, “Sleeping Ute” and “Yet Again.” Let’s just say they were really good. And so here we are: hype, buzz, anticipation, expectation, pressure: thy name is Shields.
Achieving the task of converting high art into a tightly arranged pop song, or otherwise, has long mired artists heading into the crossroads of their careers. That thought surfaces into awareness once such artist evaluates how they aligned their path from the start, and is more so a decision made to break out of redundancy rather than the aspiration to make something remarkable. Celebrated Brooklyn band Grizzly Bear began to hit their stride as a fully formed component with Yellow House, a fragmented masterstroke of delirious wonderment that somehow managed to think outside the narrow parameters of commonplace indie folk.
It’s hard to maintain a sparkling mood at all times, especially when you’re a bear with a sore head. Brooklynites Grizzly Bear have always made music that doesn’t just dream about escaping the stresses and strains of the city, but was recorded on just such getaways. 2009’s ‘Veckatimest’ rang with a utopian Cape Cod beauty and hummed with the cool breezes of the uninhabited island after which it was named, and its clear, glittering grace brought this band of jazz-folk alt-muso-weirdos to a wider audience.
GRIZZLY BEAR play Massey Hall on September 26. See listing. Rating: NNN Grizzly Bear aren't writing for the masses on their lush and interesting fourth album. Their 10 songs often pull in several different directions at once and go on strange experimental tangents, usually during the last few minutes.
In pop, the year 2009 will be mostly remembered for the death of Michael Jackson. But in recherché rock circles, 2009 will long be recalled as a hell of a year for the Brooklyn art-house band. Three groups released landmark records marking high points in their careers. Animal Collective issued the shamanic Merriweather Post Pavilion, the eclectic Dirty Projectors released their Bitte Orca, and Grizzly Bear completed their journey from loose-ranging, lo-fi experimentalists to chamber pop phenomenon with the lovely Veckatimest.
Grizzly Bear’s fourth album, Shields, has the tricky distinction of having to follow Veckatimest, which holds court as the band’s greatest musical feat to date, an exquisite distillation of their Crosby, Stills and Nash-inspired psych-folkiness that produced such richly drawn gems as “Two Weeks,” “Ready,” and “Cheerleader. ” Cognizant of the fact that Shields will be measured against its predecessor’s long shadow, the band shakes things up by trying their hand at collaborative songwriting (vocalist/guitarist and Grizzly Bear founder Edward Droste wrote most of Veckatimest). Unfortunately, while the band’s attempt to avoid simply repeating themselves is admirable, having everyone pitch in results in a predictable problem: Shields simply has too many cooks in the kitchen.
The beautiful aspect of a band like Grizzly Bear’s music is their utter quality of musicianship and how equally balanced it all truly is. Back at the Austin City Limits Festival in 2009 they were at the eye of their supporting tour for the massively successful Veckatimest. After a thirty minute session of torrential downpour the sheets lifted up and the band played a fifty-minute set of exceptional music, with the rain staying away through the entirety of the set.
Brooklyn four-piece make a long-awaited, welcome return. Wyndham Wallace 2012 With opening track Sleeping Ute's initially perplexing time signature and the subsequent psychedelic noises that tear from the speaker to speaker, it's clear success hasn’t mellowed Grizzly Bear. Not that they've lost any of their sensitivity: the track concludes with a pastoral coda that's as lovely as the music preceding it was lively.
Grizzly Bear’s latest has the Brooklyn, N.Y., band letting down some of its defenses. After making its name with the meticulous, harmonious indie-pop on 2009’s “Veckatimest,” the quartet seems to loosen up. The album kicks off with “Sleeping Ute,” a guitar jam that crashes and tumbles, surprising yet still characteristically focused. The jazzy melody of “Yet Again” also feels familiar, until a noisy coda brings it to a delightfully chaotic close.
Grizzly Bear's fourth LP was originally recorded in Marfa, but those sessions were scrapped with the exception of opening missive "Sleeping Ute." Nevertheless, the song sets up Shields with a sweeping sensibility grounded in the subtlety of its details, an epic quality that emerges like a reflection of West Texas' grandiosity accentuated by the necessity of precise minutiae. Thundering drums from Chris Bear and sonic turmoil brewed in multi-instrumentalist/bassist Chris Taylor's effects ring against swirling guitar riffs, all coursing through Daniel Rossen's calming croon, and finally settling plaintively like a post-storm wash. Shields battens down an exposition of everything and nothing all at once.
Enter the Cherubim. It's not the name of Grizzly Bear's new album, but after producing three albums of ecclesiastical (in tone, if not belief) psyche pop, it wouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone if the band had emerged from their Brooklyn dens with a ludicrously twee name like Enter the Cherubim attached to their latest. They haven't, thankfully.
Each Grizzly Bear record has been a major leap forward from the previous, so it's a bit disappointing to discover that Shields, the Brooklyn, NY band's fourth, is more of a step to the side. Veckatimest was the culmination of the quartet's intricate arrangements and lush harmonies. After an aborted attempt to record the album in Marfa, TX, Grizzly Bear went back to Cape Cod, where they tracked Veckatimest, and Shields continues in its vein.