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Considering the production quality and sophisticated arrangements that went into previous Grizzly Bear efforts, expectations are raised with each record. The quartet’s latest “Shields,” in turn, doesn’t fail to deliver another batch of gorgeously built tunes, despite having no dramatic evolution in sound.
Urgent single “Yet Again” is the essence of what makes up the pop side of Grizzly Bear, as its glimmering harmonies are met with occasionally harsh guitar sounds, and the sung syllables cut to the tense narrative and not to the beat. “Adelma,” too, is restless and refreshingly vibrant, contrasted against calm cuts like “gun-shy,” a slow-morphing idea that grew out of a Wah pedal (or, at least, the crybaby sound) as it grooves chilly-eyed through cute dashes of a clap track.
“What’s Wrong” sounds most like a track from the pen of Daniel Rossen
, the closest relative to his Department of Eagles side project from a couple years ago, as the singers’ ghostly long vowels trip over the sound of soft mallets on toms. Its story is around the evergreen and ever-unknown “you,” an example of Grizzly Bear lyrics propelled by atmosphere more than a particular story. They’re proving themselves more instrumentally capable than ever before in expressing those luscious ambiguities, like in the dark forest corners of “Sleeping Ute.”
LISTEN TO GRIZZLY BEAR'S "SHIELDS" IN ITS ENTIRETY HERE
Complicated, two-parter “Sun in Your Eyes” is Grizzly Bear’s outstanding achievement on this set, and they gave its 7+ minutes room to stretch out as the closer. Structurally, it spans over two “movements” with what seems like a false ending in the middle and a piano chord progression that will make your fingertips itch for middle-C. “So bright /so long … the sun is in your eyes / I’m never coming back … it overflows,” Rossen and Ed Droste pant over the abundant arrangements, nodding back at Van Dyk Parks as they speed away on high-velocity synths and a boatload of rhythmic instruments.
In a group where every voice can sing harmony, and every instrument can hold down rhythm, Grizzly Bear has every option at their disposal to “over-do” their ethereal sound. But they don’t. They kept “Shields” fit at 10 tracks, drove the BPM down the middle, and kept their words few. Like a lot of their records, it’s defensively lush with a few new melodies to keep the tracks apart in the memory.
"Shields" is out on Sept. 18.