Grizzly Bear releases much-anticipated new album

By Aidan Cusack

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The past three months have been unbelievable for fans of Brooklyn’s music scene. Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors have both released albums since the beginning of July, and Grizzly Bear’s 2012 album “Shields” completes this indie music trinity.

“Shields” is the group’s third album as a quartet and fourth since Ed Droste started Grizzly Bear as a solo project in 2004. This is their most anticipated release to date.

Their third album “Veckatimest,” which was released in 2009 set an extremely high bar for the band’s subsequent projects, and fans of the group have come to expect nothing but the best.. Considerable improvements were made between their second album, “Yellow House,” and “Veckatimest,” , and “Shields” is the first chance for listeners to see if the members of Grizzly Bear were able to find any more room for improvement.

Although it may not be a substantial upgrade when compared to its critically acclaimed precursor, this album is far from a disappointment. The layered and atmospheric sound the band is known for is still present, but the group has eschewed the silky smooth production that made their last release so popular. The first word that comes to mind when listening to the new songs is “raw,” and this applies to both the vocals and instrumentals. Droste seems to be more comfortable with his singing voice on this album, and as a result, the vocals aren’t as polished as they were on Grizzly Bear’s last outing.

The album opens with “Sleeping Ute,” an energy-filled track which serves as the album’s first single. Driven by the strong presence of guitars and percussion, “Sleeping Ute” acts as an indicator of what to expect from the rest of the album. Next up is “Speak In Rounds,” which finds the band embracing a bare bones approach while building upon the momentum of the opener. Like “Southern Point,” from “Veckatimest,” “Speak In Rounds” conveys a building sense of urgency akin to the band’s climax-laden “Yellow House.” Things pick up speed as the song progresses, and the payoff arrives when the crescendo of drums and guitars come crashing to an abrupt halt. The haunting vocals and instrumental roller coaster make “Speak In Rounds” one of the best offerings on the album, and may even be one of the best songs of the year.

The good doesn’t end there, however, because “Yet Again” picks up right where “Speak In Rounds” left off. This is the closest “Shields” comes to the atmospheric folk-pop that made Grizzly Bear so accessible on their last album. Ed Droste’s crooning, sounds just as good now as it did back in 2009.

The first misstep of the album comes with the arrival of “The Hunt.” Easily the sparsest song of the bunch, “The Hunt” does nothing spectacular to catch the interest of the listener. Grizzly Bear seems to be able to switch between high energy and slow ballads with ease at times, but this is not one of those instances. Fortunately, “A Simple Answer” and “Half Gate” do more than enough to carry the majority of the latter half of “Shields.”

The album’s closer is another high point. “Sun In Your Eyes” is the most expansive track on the album, both in terms of its length and sound. A majestic seven-minute opus, the song is divided into two separate movements much like “Yellow House’s” “Lullabye,” and as with the opener, “Sun In Your Eyes” finds Daniel Rossen assuming the role of lead vocalist. The track reaches its pinnacle when Rossen sings “so long, I’m never coming back,” which seems like the perfect place to leave the listener. Then, just when the piece seems to be coming to an end,, the instruments slowly begin to come to life again. The second half of the final song announces itself with a single piano chord, and the other instruments slowly join in before Rossen’s voice reappears to properly close out the album.

While it may not surpass Grizzly Bear’s current (and perhaps career) highlight “Veckatimest,” “Shieldsis still a very good album. Many bands become predictable when they find a winning formula, but Grizzly Bear used this opportunity to show that they’re still progressing. The album was more of a group effort than any of the previous works, and the presence of every member can be felt throughout the entirety of the album. The raw and intimate feel of “Shields” wasn’t arrived at accidentally; it was a calculated move outside of the band’s comfort zone.. Fans both new and old can get months of enjoyment out of the album as a whole, and there are a handful of tracks on “Shields” that are some of the band’s best work.

Aidan Cusack can be reached at [email protected]