I had hoped to get this out a couple weeks ago as a "Prevaluation" as I listened to it obsessively while NPR was streaming it. I loved it then but I knew it wouldn't be a true evaluation until I had my own copy and was able to really listen to it whenever and wherever I wanted to. May seem weird, I know it does as I type, but I'm glad I waited. Took it to a new level for me.
The band needed to take some time away from each other, and Grizzly Bear itself, after they finished touring for Veckatimest. You could tell in the last year or so that the band was itching to get back into the musical swing as side projects started popping up. About a year prior to Shields release, bass player Chris Taylor released the debut album by his side project CANT. Then earlier this year, singer and guitarist Daniel Rossen released an amazing solo EP Silent Hour/Golden Mile. This really got the GB juices flowing as it had a very similar vibe and Rossen's stellarly unique voice and style were as great as remembered. If you haven't checked it out I highly recommend it.
As I mentioned before, I have a deep love for GB and Vecaktimest is one of my favorite albums of the last 5 years. Their albums have always had a way of meandering around which is part of the reason they were so great. There was an odd balance, or lack thereof. Shields is easily the band's most cohesive effort to date. Seemingly a big reason for this, Droste and Rossen wrote songs for each other for 1st time on this album. Between Taylor's and Rossen's solo efforts and this new more collaborative effort, Shields just feels more complete than anything else they've released. It reminds me of The Beetles in that you (basically) had 4 solo musicians all working together in a band. As time went on, each had their own songs and ideas and it sometimes caused their albums to be all over the place. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Beetles fan and am not knocking them. Just saying that GB has seemingly evolved in the opposite direction. As time has passed, they have become more of a single unit than 4 moving parts going in a similar direction.
Prior to the albums release we got to hear opening track "Sleeping Ute" and then "Yet Again." Both were great teasers for the epicness that was lying in the weeds waiting to invade our ears. As much as I loved "Two Weeks" from Veckatimest I was a little worried they would stray too far towards that poppier vibe. Those worries were quickly laid to rest as Shields strikes a great balance. I can't get over how seemless the overall flow of the album is. It's almost as if they aren't so much songs but chapters in a book. They are all focused differently but come together to tell a story that you can't put down and want to read again before it's even finished.
Two of my favorites from Shields come at the tail-end of the album in "gun-shy" and "Sun In Your Eyes." Both have quickly become favorites of mine from their entire catalog. "gun-shy" opens with a hypnotic dreaminess before Droste pipes in with "The sky keeps staring at me, frozen in the tracks" followed by a ghostly Rossen with "Nothing else to see." This back-and-forth carries on throughout and closes with a reversal of sorts. Taylor leads with his own ghostliness this time followed by Droste, and then they sing on top of each other in a marriage of vocal awesomeness.
(Sandwiched in between is "Half Gate," which is no slouch itself. Droste's voice is at the epitome of its utmost gorgeousness.)
"Sun In Your Eyes" starts off with a door closing? Then Rossen comes in on a cloud of mellow over a simple drum beat and some keys. The is where the epicness comes to throw down. The band brings an almost orchestral feeling that brings your senses to life in a whirlwind of noise. Things mellow back down but with a notion that you're about to get bombarded again. And you do. Just when you think the song is coming to a close you are quickly reminded that this is Grizzly Bear. Rossen eases back in with a more intensely building mellowness, which has the sole purpose of tying us over until one of the greatest final minutes of an album in recent memory....Rossen and Droste playing off each other's voices over booming instruments. Keys close it out. Utterly phenomenal.
Now that my senses are completely in awe, I must return my media player's Play icon back to its proper state of Pause.
I dig this live version of "gun-shy"
Check out the epic "Sun In Your Eyes" below: