Grizzly Bear’s 2012 release Shields made it on my top 12 albums of 2012 last year.
Here’s what I wrote then, and some new thoughts at the bottom:
It’s been a full three years since Grizzly Bear last released an album (2009’s Veckatimest). In the meantime, Bear members Chris Taylor and Daniel Rossen both released solo records.
Taylor, Bear bassist, released an album under the moniker CANT called Dreams Come True. If you’ve heard that record, you know it… wait for it… CANT do no wrong. Up top, everybody.
Really though, Dreams Come True was a totally satisfying experimental record that was part Yeasayer, part Black Moth Super Rainbow (and other, equally weird parts) – but only the newer, introspective Black Moth that relies far less on the psychedelic than it does on the much more palatable, catchy electronica. It was spacey goodness, and made the wait between GB records less agonizing. Further, Taylor’s vocal style doesn’t depart from his main band, which I thought was refreshing. Come to think of it, all of the GB boys have distinguished vocal styles, easily picked up throughout their songs. Some bands with multiple vocalists run into the issue of too little differentiation, wherein their vocals blur and sludge together. Not so with GB.
Likewise, Rossen’s Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP, released this year (and, spoiler alert, also to be featured in my year-ending EP list) reminded me a lot of the stripped down elements from GB. Rossen’s voice, like Taylor’s, is so easily recognizable. If tracks from both spin-off records were lumped in with GB albums in a blind “taste test” of sorts, you’d be hard pressed to distinguish where they came from because of how utterly familiar they sound.
TL;DR version of the last two paragraphs: the side band records released this and last year were enough to hold over any Grizzly Bear fan.
That being said, as it is with any type of extended hiatus from a well-respected band, expectations will run high. Veckatimest was a record I listened to till I couldn’t anymore. In this age of the popular digital single and the mostly forgettable “rest of the album,” Veckatimest was a straight jammer the whole way through. End to end hits.
Shields, on the other hand, glides its way through its latter three or four tracks until its “epic” (shudder) closing track.
From the online reaction I garnered, the first single to come out ahead of Shields’ release, “Sleeping Ute,” garnered split reviews. While easily recognizable as a Grizzly Bear tune, the song relies heavily on distortion and trippy effects. We’ve seen this before from GB, but as an additive, not the showcase. It was a significant departure from stripped down, breathy tracks like “While You Wait for the Others” from Veckatimest.
That’s also my general consensus for the record. Sometimes when you get your expectations up so high for a record, you’re not… let down, per se, so much as having to shift your preconceived notions.
This all sounds terribly negative, doesn’t it? It’s not. Despite a rather forgettable middle, my experience with Shields is a positive one, landing Grizzly Bear at number 12 on my list of top albums of ought-12.
Lead single “Sleeping Ute” is a standout. “Adelma,” a minute long instrumental track, is delicate and tremendous. The last song, “Sun in Your Eyes,” builds to the point of creating a perfection analogy for my initial frustration with this album on the whole – only to resolve with huge fuzzy bass and I wasn’t pent up anymore. I don’t want to say it gave me blue balls, but it kind of gave me blue balls.
On a scale from “Timothy Treadwell” (too soon?) to “adorable grizzly bear cub vibes, I give Grizzly Bear’s Shields a solid “waving Kodiak bear.”
p.s. please tour Florida, thanks.
Standout tracks: “Sleeping Ute” and “Sun in Your Eyes”
Since this post, the group did, in fact, tour Florida. They came through earlier this year at the Ritz in Ybor City. Ironically enough, I did not go.
After seeing Beach House last year and being bored to tears by the show, I’ve had to make up my mind well I’m advance of whether or not it’s worth it to see electronically-minded indie rock or pop bands. Just like with some rappers (I won’t name names, but it rhymes with Lendrick Kamar), the magic is on the album, not in the live performance. Same goes for a band like HAIM, whose stage show is not quite there yet. Few more tours in the oven and I’ll check back in.
To me, the Beach House show sounded like someone pressed play while Victoria sang and their drummer hit a bunch of things. Sure, their light show might have been on point, but the performance was so decidedly timid. There was nothing exciting or exceptional about it.
I felt the same way about the potentiality of seeing the Grizzly Bears. I ended up passing on that show, partially because it was expensive, and partially because I felt like I wasn’t really missing anything. In a way I regret that now, but also I don’t because broke.
I’ve largely ignored Shields this year in favor of the kajillion other records that came out. But in treading through it today, I can say with confidence that it’s the logical progression past Veckatimest. It’s a more mature record both in sound and scope.
I wouldn’t say that the group lost the distinct colors and textures from Veckatimest, but they have toned it down a bit. More pastels this time than watercolor.
From Shields, this is “Sleeping Ute” –
New standout tracks: “Speak in Rounds” and “Yet Again”
Weakest track: “Gun-Shy,” because the Beatles’ influence is murdering me in my sleep.
RIYL: Lush indie pop/rock.