Band: Grizzly Bear
Album: Shields
Best song: Let’s say “Yet Again,” but this changes daily for me.
Worst song: “Adelma” is a transition track and not really a “song,” per se, so let’s go that way. This album is brilliant.

I was a late comer to Grizzly Bear for a myriad of reasons. However, the band’s third record, Veckatimest, connected with me so strongly that it’s become a goto album for me. There aren’t a ton of records I can enjoy so much front-to-back as Veckatimest. I’d listed it as the 19th-best album of the 2000s and I’m not sure that’s high enough.

Shields may be better. 

It’s the beginning of November, but I have little doubt that Shields will be atop many critics’ lists year-end lists. Shields is as sonically ample as Veckatimest, stylistically rich and as emotionally striking as anything. Like the artwork from Richard Diebenkorn the band used, the album sounds familiar yet challenging.

Giving the record a mediocre three of five stars, Slant magazine seemed to sum it up well: “Pretty but formless, Shields plays like a calculated retreat into something altogether indistinct and inconsequential.” I take the record’s direction a wildly different way. Grizzly Bear didn’t make a record that is necessarily formless, but rather abstract, exactly like Veckatimest. However, in Shields, the band sharpened their chops, ditched overt pop sensiilities (“Two Weeks” is a pop song, plain and simply. “Yet Again” is not.) and make a masterpiece.

In fact, the singles are the picture of this. Sleeping Ute< is borderline progressive rock, with a rewarding but difficult structure, pitch-perfect vocals from Daniel Rossen and a swirling climax. It’s “See Emily Play” for a modern era. “Yet Again” is similarly wonderful, with a hummable melody, a stutterstep rhythm and a cacophonic coda. It is near Edward Droste’s best vocal.

The album is hardly based on the singles, though. “The Hunt” is a wonderful relationship song, with the thematic notions of loss and gain between people is simple and beautiful. “Speak in Rounds” also examines that theme — the album has a lot of this — with the wonderfully simple repeated final lines — “Step down, just once learn how to be alone” — as a seeming reminder to the song’s protagonist. “Gun-shy” has a doubled Droste lead vocal, perfect harmonies and a staccato sound that sounds like nothing the band has done before. This, of course, is a wonderful thing.

It goes without saying that Veckatimest is its own album and that Grizzly Bear doesn’t need to do the same thing over and over. Which is why Shields is so powerful. It doesn’t sound like the band’s great previous work, yet doesn’t abandon the band’s aesthetic. This is what growth sounds like, everyone.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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