Three years have passed since Veckatimest made Grizzly Bear one of the biggest alternative rock bands in America, and so it was natural that this year’s long awaited follow up would arrive in a wave of frenzy and hype that only confirmed the Brooklyn quartet's increased status.
The progress of Grizzly Bear has been charted through their back catalogue as they continually developed their unique sound over the course of three albums, each one stepping up its game from the last. 2004's Horn of Plenty was essentially an Edward Droste solo effort, recorded with a quirky bedroom lo-fi sound that originally caught the attention of critics and fans alike, leading to a record deal and the formation of a group that included the now familiar Daniel Rossen, Chris Taylor and Christopher Bear. 2006's Yellow House showcased the raw talent of each member as they began to explore each other's styles and laid the groundwork for Veckatimest, the realisation of Grizzly Bear's potential and a record that marked the true arrival of Grizzly Bear as a fully realised indie rock outfit.
So now that everyone seems to have been convinced that the hype is indeed to be believed, it would make sense right about now for a post-success slump, right? Certainly not. Shields kicks off right where Veckatimest left and continues Grizzly Bear's unstoppable form as Droste and co. unleash a variety of tunes over the course of 48 minutes and ten tracks. Opener Sleeping Ute begins with a rocking intro as Daniel Rossen sings over the clanging electric guitars in his Southern drawl, while Ed Droste is introduced on Speak in Rounds, a building acoustic track that recalls Yellow House's Central and Remote. Adelma is an instrumental track most unlike the band; a one minute synth sample that works as an intro to irresistible lead single Yet Again, led by Droste's characteristic aching vocal. From there highlights include Gun-Shy, another Droste track that sounds like a natural single through it's warm, catchy style and the bouncy A Simple Answer. The album closes with Sun In Your Eyes, an always building track that pays off with a sensational climax to conclude Shields in a glorious and definitive manner.
So yes, Shields is a perfectly good album, but what does it really say about Grizzly Bear after 4 albums and 8 years? Well, first of all, the album firmly establishes the bureaucratic setup the band has always employed and takes it to the next level; make no mistake, Grizzly Bear may have begun as a solo project but this is a band as far away as possible from relying on one man. Ed Droste has always fronted the group but the only real indication of his leadership at this point is the fact that he stands centre and front on stage during live performances. Grizzly Bear was never a dictatorship, but it's never been more of a democracy.
All of this is progressive and vital to the band's success; the vocal style of Rossen is now key to the band’s sound and the often overlooked Christopher Bear serves as the rhythmic driving force behind the music; his steady drumbeat pulsates each track in a way that ensures his presence shouldn't be underestimated. The obvious individual talent of each band member means that Grizzly Bear have a group of musicians easily capable of leading their own projects, but on Shields the band has never sounded more together, as the contribution of Droste, Rossen, Taylor and Bear combine to form an exceptional and unique sound that fans will be hoping they can provide for years to come. The consistency of Shields is evidence that there is a very real reason to expect it.