Following the sprawling success of their critically acclaimed third album, Veckatimest, the members of Grizzly Bear each went their separate ways. Ed Droste, the intensely likeable lead singer, took some time to rekindle old friendships and venture on a few trips that lent themselves to dazzling Instagram photos (@edroste). Guitarist and vocalist Dan Rossen retreated to the countryside to record a stunning solo EP, Silent Hour/Golden Mile. Bassist Chris Taylor released a solo album under the moniker CANT, produced records for Twin Shadow and Blood Orange, and is working on a cookbook. Lastly, drummer Chris Bear went into hibernation — kidding.
The time apart seems to have given the band a new perspective, helping make Shields their best record to date. Grizzly Bear recorded the album in a yellow house in Cape Cod that will ring a bell for some, and for the first time Droste and Rossen worked on songs together rather than in solitude. To say that the pair is the music world’s Jordan-Pippen duo is not far-fetched; Droste’s vocals have the guile and finesse of the latter, while Rossen’s singing owns tracks like the former owned the air.
Though Shields doesn’t have a standout single, the record is rewarding because of the painstaking attention to sonic detail. “Yet Again” is the perfect example, with a swell of guitars mounts to a crescendo as Droste and Rossen harmonize throughout. Taylor’s twangy bass lends elegiac tracks like “Gun-Shy” a joyfulness despite the morose subject matter.
I imagine it must be frustrating for other bands to observe the apparent ease with which Grizzly Bear constructs beautiful ballads that have enough presence to fill cavernous venues. This happened at Massey Hall, where Owen Pallet joined them with his violin in tow for a soul-stirring rendition of “Half Gate”. It’s easy to forget the bashful drummer, Chris Bear, but on lengthy album-closer, “Sun In Your Eyes,” he provides reason to believe the song is a new high for the band. His frenetic drumming lent the track an even more manic quality at their Toronto show last September.
At this point in their careers, Shields is a scary indication of just how good the New Yorkers are and will continue to be – as long as album-ending proclamation of “I’m never coming back” ends up not being true.
By: Tomi Milos