Undoubtedly, this fourth album of the Brooklyn-based indie-rock ensemble around Edward Droste marks another milestone in their steadily ascending career ever since Mr. Droste released Horn of Plenty, an album of songs recorded largely in his bedroom, as a one-man group in 2004. Once he pulled together a band in 2005, including a second main songwriter, Daniel Rossen, GRIZZLY BEAR’s music and audience gradually expanded.
Employing traditional and electronic instruments, the band creates soundscapes reaching from psychedelic pop over folk rock to experimental, thereby being dominated by the use of vocal harmonies. On their new output, complex song compositions – musically as well as verbally – are concerned with the enigmas of human relationships. It was when the songs slowly emerged that the band became aware of a recurring theme in the lyrics. “There’s a lot of talk about negotiating distance from people in your life,” Mr. Rossen said. “We were dealing with that in various forms, learning what it means to be alone, learning what it means to be close to somebody, certain things coming to a head. It just feels like a major difficulty in life.” Mr. Droste picked up the thought: “There’s a desire to be autonomous, but there’s also this great fear of being alone, and there’s this constant feeling of, ‘How do you reconcile this?’ There’s this need for space, but there’s also this, ‘Come closer come closer.’ ” And Mr. Rossen added: “This album doesn’t feel like a depressing record. But it’s charged. It’s emotionally intense.”
For instance, take Sleeping Ute, Shields’ opener, as only one of the many eventful songs – staggering, swirling, deafening, unraveling, and shimmering with the acoustic guitar – that are dramatic from the beginning to the end! With its abundant embellishments and eccentric psychedelic moments, the song could be the perfect soundtrack of a typical Quentin Tarantino movie. The lyrics “I live to see your face, and I hate to see you go / but I know no other way than straight on out the door,” reveal the manifoldness of emotions, diverging into different directions all at the same time.
In songs like Yet Again and Half Gate, the compromise between experimentation and elegance creates catchy and melodic pop tunes without being simple at any point. The denial of simplification can be found in the rest of the songs, which comprise obscure jazz harmonies, changeable meters and structures that can change in any direction, always depending on the diverse moods and melodies, as well.
However, Shields also has the dignity of becoming all frugal and quiet – especially in The Hunt and What’s Wrong, both of which drift into airy minimalism. By the time it calms down, the album blends all its gentle and majestically blustering sides in the seven-minute stunner Sun in Your Eyes.
With considerably more care taken on lyrics, Shields is far from containing only dreamy pop compositions that the band had constructed on previous albums. It is “a much more verbose album,” Mr. Droste said. With this effort, GRIZZLY BEAR are now always many steps beyond their beginnings as a home-recording project for singer Ed Droste. It’s an album to take your breath away at certain points, with plenty of beauty that makes the whole journey more than worthwhile.
indie rock / neo-psychedelic / experimental rock / folk
from Brooklyn, New York, US