Grizzly Bear lifted even higher with ‘Shields’

Barry Winslow

The booming, soothing and melodious harmonies of Grizzly Bear are back.

The Brooklyn-based indie rock quartet known for their curious and explorative sound dominated by vocal harmony, recently released their fourth studio album, “Shields,” on Sep. 18 under the label Warp Records.

Formed in 2002 in Brooklyn, Grizzly Bear started off being a moniker for lead singer Ed Droste, who began working on a collection of musical work with a very low-fi, organic feel.

Droste produced and released the band’s first studio album, 2004’s “Horn of Plenty,” which was mainly solo material with percussion contributions from future drummer, Christopher Bear.

Comprised of Droste (vocals, keyboards, omnichord) and Bear (drums, backing vocals), along with Chris Taylor (bass, backing vocals, various instruments, producer) and Daniel Rossen (vocals, guitar, banjo, keyboards), the quartet released their first album as a four-piece with 2006’s “Yellow House.”

The album was named after Droste’s mother’s house in Cape Cod where the album was recorded. Made up of ten tracks, all five to six minutes in length, “Yellow House” is full of venturing melodies and free flowing narrative structure.

Considered weird by many first time listeners, Grizzly Bear showcases here that they are a band that demands sonic patience, delivering sounds that display musical beauty after numerous playbacks.

Once again, Grizzly Bear garnered positive critical reviews with “Yellow House,” but it wasn’t until 2009’s “Veckatimest” that the band broke through to a wider audience and frequent radio play.

“Veckatimest” is much more accessible than it’s predecessor, relying on tighter song structure and more apparent transitions from verse to chorus.

The fame from “Veckatimest” put Grizzly Bear on the road, continuously touring for the last three years in support of the album.

Once touring ended, the band was in need of a break, and a six month hiatus followed. But now, well rested, Grizzly Bear has returned. This time around, the band has dropped a masterpiece.

“Shields,” the bands newest installment, is abrupt and in-your-face. The opening track, “Sleeping Ute,” creeps into existence with a catchy guitar riff followed by exploding synth cries resembling a trumpet blast.

Massive low-end bass trembles under acoustic guitar shrieks and fluttering keyboard work, continuing to crescendo until electric effects take over the amps, leaving you dumbfounded and speechless.

If the opening track somehow didn’t leave you with a solid impression, the second tune, “Speak In Rounds,” is sure to be a highlight. Droste’s vocals eerily enter over a deep keyboard chord.

The tension is lifted as acoustic guitar wisps around swirling background electric riffs and shuffling keys, creating an airy and floating quality.

A short instrumental track, “Adelma,” follows, lurking and dark with no repeating patterns or predictable beats, similar in structure to some of the tracks found on “Horn of Plenty” and “Yellow House.” Soft saxophone ends the piece and blends into the fourth track, “Yet Again.”

A stand out on the album, “Yet Again” is the most accessible track on the album and its bright tonal quality is similar to the hit “Two Weeks” and “Ready, Able” from “Veckatimest.”

This track is flawless and effortless all at once, loaded with harmony and adventuresome spacy guitar fills, a sound that is undeniably Grizzly Bear.

The album’s sixth track, “A Simple Answer,” starts off with a marching, militant drum beat and repeating piano patterns, trodding proudly into a chorus where Droste’s vocals explains a breakup, singing “and it calls you back to mind/at once/at last/oh goodness mercy mine/soldier on/but please not so long/this time.”

Somehow Grizzly Bear is able to create a song so lyrically sad that musically could be played during the wild trapeze act in a giant circus tent.

Harmonious tones come in at the end of the track, changing the pace to create a well-textured musical landscape.

The eighth song, “Gun-Shy,” is a soft sentiment with draggy, extended twangs coming from Rossen’s guitar and galactic omnichord tones from Taylor scatter over Droste’s high pitched harmonies.

A calming and melancholy song nestled in “Shields”’ second half, it’s the standout track among the album’s closing tunes.

Grizzly Bear has grown with this release, showing how the band can effortlessly change pace and direction from previous works.

However, the band still continues to break musical barriers and please listeners old and new. “Shields” is a must-have album and a highpoint of the band’s already impressive career.