Album Review: Grizzly Bear – Shields

By Baby Tuckoo

It. Is. (just) Good.

There. Done. (That was easy).

Oooooh, shit, wait a minute… Chrissakes; You ‘tards want your “Pitchfork” review. Okay, okay. Here’s your thesaurus-bending, metaphor-wobbling fancy.

Before you continue any further though; listen. Preferably on a decent hi-fi system, if you’re able.

Sitting down to write a few words of the Brooklyn giant that is Grizzly Bear’s newest album, I am suddenly aware of how far out of depth I honestly am, and how grossly unqualified to be writing this. I had a full listen through the entire record before beginning to formulate anything remotely resembling an educated opinion. I’m “grossly unqualified”, as all I know is what my ears have heard before, and Grizzly Bear are altogether another animal compared to their contemporaries and predecessors.

Having said that though, I am gifted this opportunity to write on them. They have a considerable body of work already in their previous 3 records, on which one can draw similarities, and abuse outmoded adjectives. The only current reference I can reasonably compare them with at this point is the Australian psychedelic outfit Tame Impala who, however, as the name suggests, would be devoured and chewed up should it encounter a Grizzly Bear.

Be warned: Lazy Beatles references will also abound in the next few paragraphs.

The opening salvo launched with Sleeping Ute. A tremolo-soaked, jarring, jangling blues-inspired riff, and a circling bass motif, with dreamlike guitar stabbing. This is followed by Daniel Rossen’s familiar choral lilt over densely interwoven guitar arpeggios (familiar to those who have heard his recent solo EP, Silent Hour/Golden Mile, which preceded this record by 6 months). It is patently obvious, too, why this track was used by the band to herald the coming of the new Grizzly Bear record. It possesses a similar power and melancholic majesty as Rossen’s  solo work.  His definite George Harrison-esque guitar-work throughout the record is simply otherworldly. And despite those thundering, climactic, yet never overbearing crescendos of the intro (revisited throughout the opening track), the song is propelled like a nuclear submarine or a torpedo, straight to wherever Daniel Rossen was intending to direct it. It is ultimately a song of heartbreak, longing and loss, that ends on a wistful tone of regret and self reprimand.  For what? We can only guess.

The tracks on this album can barely be described as pop songs – they’re better thought of as canto’s or even dreams. As expected of Grizzly Bear, these are grandiose-yet-sensitive, towering pieces of music, blending their very blatantly obvious love of pop songs with an altogether other sort of love. They possess the ability to bewitch ears, with impossible harmonies and textural shifts which baffle and entrance.

And, their penchant for ear-grabbing moments has not deserted them. From stabbing guitars piercing a circling riff, from insane group harmonies over a sudden drop mid-song into a sparse arrangement as in Yet Again (or midway through A Simple Answer), from a heavily treated, stunning piano riff, or a stripped down minute+ wind instrument outro on What’s Wrong, or the subtle rattle of a tambourine that appears in numerous places. And although the songs themselves are stellar pieces on their own, it is the records heir-to-A-Day-In-The-Life’s production and arrangement aesthetics that make this a truly remarkable record – standing head and shoulders above its “indie” peers; a mammoth more than a bear, and achieving a feat in this day and age is both a rare and extraordinary one.

But still it plagues me; it is as though this band swims in an ocean all of its own. There are so few reference points to attach to them, making it (simultaneously) highly stimulating and uncharted listening. And that is the beauty of Grizzly Bear – this is glorious, unfettered songwriting, taken to a level beyond the grasp or abilities of any band alive right now. That unashamed approach to writing and singing songs, songs which are arranged, composed and structured like our dreams. They paint in colours that others can only dream in.

There is just this one nagging, irksome feature of the record, and this is its ultra-sweetness. These Grizzly Bear records do need to come with health warnings: “High in sugar and monosaccharide content”.  One needs to use a little moderation when Grizzly Bearing.

5 outta 5 tuckoo’s!


Ah well; now get out there! Get the record!  And celebrate by purchasing yourself another flannel shirt or a v-neck T… maybe a matching light woolen scarf, or take that diminutive dog for a walk on its ultra-thin, lightweight doggie-lead. Maybe drink a skinny decaf latte on the bench and type all your thoughts up on a typewriter.



Baby Tuckoo

In the cold, cold night a boy was birthed. A flash of white noise; nearby televisions sparked; then returned to normal. Viewer’s wrongly put it down to electrical storm interference. The boy entered the machine. He’s been trying to escape ever since.


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