Album Review: Shields

Grizzly Bears’s Shields has generated a lot of Buzz since being released last September. I was fairly unfamiliar with this group other than I knew they were the group that did “Two Weeks.” While it is a great song, it almost has a gimmicky feel to it which, to me, usually does not result in me taking a lot of interest in the group’s other works. I’m glad I reconsidered in this case, Grizzly Bear is an extremely talented, unique group that I have taken a liking to after listening to Shields. The first song I heard off of it was “Sleeping Ute,” which took a few listens before I stopped hating it. It’s funny how your opinion of a song can change so drastically. I used to think that “Sleeping Ute” was boring and sloppy, but now I think it’s one of the strongest tracks on the album. But there are some other winners on this album so let’s get started.

1. Sleeping Ute-(8/10): “Sleeping Ute” is a fun, all over the place track that is a good preview for what the rest of the album holds in store.  It mainly features a quick, choppy guitar riff that is complemented rather nicely by multiple percussion methods that are unpredictable but well placed (this is a staple of Grizzly Bear). The lyrics give me little to work in terms of a song meaning and at first the song itself gave me that impression but as I listened closer I could hear the emotion being poured on by the group in terms of the mood this song creates at a couple different junctures. The first is just following the first chorus @ 1:34….beautiful song writing in that select spot. The next is the concluding lyrics that are accompanied only by a solo guitar is another highlight for this track (@3:10). But I still haven’t figured out what he means when he says he can’t help himself.

2. Speak in Rounds (6.5/10): Although I have heard this on the radio a few times, I’m not very partial to it. It it almost a knock off of “Yet Again,” which may be the best track on the album. Boring verses, boring chorus; can’t really get into this song. Probably the only thing I like about it is the lyric “Learn how to be alone,”  a lesson that many need to learn.

3. Adelma (N/A) I generally don’t rate songs that are this short. I welcome their presence on the album; they serve as an intermission or breathe new life into the album. Track three is a little early to do that, however, and virtually nothing (and I mean NOTHING) happens for this short-lived segment. A cheap way to get 10 tracks on an album.

4. Yet Again (9.5/10) This is the breadwinner of the album, the track I would attribute most of the record’s success to. And it is for that reason that I have posted it below. I am torn on whether this song is meant to be of a sad nature or a “lesson learned” type of deal. It sounds like it’s about two friends that seem to find themselves together despite the friendship going stale or being at odds with each other. Not an uplifter by any means (made evident by the gloomy chants @0:57), definitely a better chill out song. It features a nice blend of guitar and piano along with Edward Droste’s vocals. I think he is the more talented lead vocalist over Daniel Rosen, fellow band-mate. But they all employ excellent backing vocals, and that is certainly a strength of Grizzly Bear. Their weakness would probably be creating songs that are catchy or that have a hook. That’s okay, though; the songs are laced with substance and if you put a little effort into enjoying them, they are well worth discovering. Such is the case with “Yet Again”

5. The Hunt (4/10) This song is a snoozer. Begins on a awkward piano/guitar combination and doesn’t really get much better. The lyrics appear to have the same meaning or idea as “Yet Again” but the song is nowhere close to being as good. Hit the skip button and be ready for a heavy hitter up next.

6. A Simple Answer (9/10) “A Simple Answer” is a simply great fucking song. You certainly get your money’s worth with the 6:01 run time. It starts out with some odd instrument that I can’t identify but it then smoothly transitions to a cool piano beat. This songs combines both Droste and Rosen’s vocals. Right from “Those saints in lockstep,” I’m hooked and prepare myself for what is a fine listening experience. One of my favorite parts is Droste’s part following chorus (@1:43), it creates an alternate mood for the song that will reappear later. While Rosen has some creative, innovative lyrics and sings them rather nicely, it’s Droste performance that steals along with the musical breakdown that happens right @4:28 and goes on for the rest of the track. A true work of art, it moves at a snail’s pace but it is so transcendent it cannot go unnoticed. Listen to it for yourself and if you don’t like it the first time you hear it, I won’t even know what to say, I guess (I’ll try to come up with something, though…somehow)

7. What’s Wrong (5/10)-This is another miss for me. It’s a song that starts out modestly but doesn’t really build up to anything. Features some more electronic effects than some of the previous tracks on the album but they don’t seem to work with Rosen’s vocals for this effort. I know that there’s some out there who think Grizzly Bear changed their song too much for this album and that it was an overall negative impact on the band. I don’t believe this to be true but it’s songs like this one where I see where they are coming from. A poor beginning is trumped by an even worse outro featuring a bad piano/horn segment.

8.Gun-shy (6.5/10) Back to the singing of Mr. Droste. I dig the flow of the songs where he is the featured vocalist. I don’t mean for this to be a dig at Rosen, I believe him to be a great singer also (his effort in the recording of “Sleeping Ute” is outstanding). But Droste vocals sound less forced and allow for the listener to tune out and enjoy the song at the same time. The lyrics about being lost or hesitant to act on something are well written. Droste and Rosen sing simultaneously during this song (@1:45) and they pull it off rather nicely with the help of some effects.

9. Half Gate(5/10) Starts out with some violin or cello and then picks up shortly after. The song appears to be of a more serious nature than most of their other tracks. There are some parts of it that almost sound overly-dramatic to me (@2:15). Much like real life, I want none of that in my music. One of the reasons I like Grizzly Bear so much is that it’s subtle yet intricate style puts me in a good mood. Not a bad effort, does some have hooks (4:07) which is seldom seen in even some of their better tracks.

10. Sun in Your Eyes (3.5/10) Unsatisfying final track on an otherwise solid album. Most of the non-supporters of Grizzly Bear complain that their music is too boring. I wholeheartedly disagree. I think that many people just misunderstand what Grizzly Bear is about and what type of sound they are trying to create. That being said, I will concede that this song is rather boring. Impossible for me to get into right from he start and it drags on with little bright spots other than a nice piano send-off at the end

Overall Grade-B. Grizzly Bear is a band like few others and it’s apparent that their talent will enable them to put out more albums and produce some more memorable songs.