The beautiful aspect of a band like Grizzly Bear’s music is their utter quality of musicianship and how equally balanced it all truly is. Back at the Austin City Limits Festival in 2009 they were at the eye of their supporting tour for the massively successful Veckatimest. After a thirty minute session of torrential downpour the sheets lifted up and the band played a fifty-minute set of exceptional music, with the rain staying away through the entirety of the set. The band was positioned in a horizontal line with the four members all uniformly unison; as the audience, you’re left with no choice but to simultaneously take all four in, with the ultimate fruition the reward. A sight to behold, it goes without saying that during this time in Grizzly Bear’s arch, they were certainly on a high peak.
Perhaps they hit a wall, interviews with the band members regarding their hiatus from all things considered a band highlight feelings of doubt and burnout, but the quality of the music never deteriorated. For many of us, the movement towards a more unifying aspect on Veckatimest – with songs like “I Live With You” – was a higher reach than conceivably, the more isolated moments of Yellow House. Both fantastic albums, with a degree of subjective feeling on what you preferred; with Shields, Grizzly Bear continue to forge new relationships, breaking more boundaries and unify even more as a band. In scenarios like these, it’s obvious that the band is defiantly comfortable in their actions and decisions – even a dreaded hiatus can harbor tremendously great results.
The band set out with intentions to record the album in the quaint town of Marfa, Texas with band member Chris Taylor returning as producer. The lone member of the band that continued to work on music during their break, Taylor delivers moments of clarity with brilliant exposures and astounding treatments of sound. They recorded enough material for the album but decided to shelve most of it, with the exception of two sole songs, the lead singles: “Sleeping Ute” and “Yet Again.” Returning to the ominous house they deployed to record Yellow House, the remaining songs were rendered through collective efforts that the band clarifies as their most collaborative endeavor to date.
On the rousing “Sleeping Ute,” Daniel Rossen’s voice is the star as he yelps his lamenting cries against the clamor of the guitar. These ‘in-your-face’ tendencies are relentlessly felt on the songs tumbling choruses and while the opening song is much different than the opener on Veckatimest, “Southern Point,” it’s similarly a jolt to the arm of life. The other song they kept, “Yet Again,” draws from a similar vein but this time, it’s Ed Droste’s glowing voice front and center. Both songs borrow ideas revolving around background vocals, chugging aesthetics and rather standard song structure. And while the simplicity is fashioned well in the hands of a band like Grizzly Bear, they pale in comparison to songs like “Half Gate.” Borrowing from My Morning Jacket, the vocals soar above the thumping drums and guitar and the band surrounds itself in a shadowed layer of sounds.
More so, right after “Sleeping Ute,” the band creeps in with “Speak in Rounds,” where the rounding guitar sounds conveniently at home. One has to wonder what the other material they left behind from Marfa sounds like. But maybe they’ve already solidified themselves as a collective whole where each member is regarded and realized as a fully-independent, yet necessary, facet of the spectrum Grizzly Bear revel in. And although Veckatimest might be more of an emotionally-driven album, Shields continues to showcase a band that is somehow – as good as they currently are – simply getting better and better, regardless of the location, the circumstances, regardless of the schedules. These ten songs represent a focal point in the band’s life that is without any kind of doubt: they are poised for greatness.