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While there’s no question that Grizzly Bear‘s last two records have sounded gorgeous, critics of the band have wondered if that’s enough. Shields, the band’s fourth and most compositionally adventurous record, should put those concerns to bed. Though full of baroque, detail-rich production and latticework melodies, Shields also offers an emotionally resonant core. The album is an excavation of loneliness, melancholy, and self-reliance. It’s also a demanding record, without an instantly gratifying single like “Knife” or “Two Weeks” to hook restless ears. But the rewards that come from immersing yourself in it are odd and profound. Shields feels like a summation of Grizzly Bear’s strengths, drawing a line from the muddy, minor key sonic palette of Ed Droste’s home-recorded Horn of Plenty and stringing it to the heels of boundless ambition.
The album reverberates with a sense of irresolution. This was present before with Grizzly Bear– Yellow House‘s “Colorado” concludes with a fireworks display of unanswered pleas: “What now? What now? What now?”– but never to such a degree. And it’s that tension that makes returning to Shields so rewarding. The final one-two punch is a stunner, where the poignant grace of “Half-Gate” gives way to the magnificently epic “Sun in Your Eyes”. If “Sleeping Ute” was the start of a sojourn from society, “Sun” ends not with a return but a transcendent kiss-off: “So long, I’m never coming back.”
This closing pair of songs speaks to the album’s complexity. Despite the formalism and easy-to-love production, Shields‘ best moments inflict a sense of unease that wriggles under the skin and lingers after the final crescendo. But this collection of unvarnished shipwreck-spirituals is after something more challenging than a feel-good ending. With Shields, Grizzly Bear make certain demands–hold still, listen closely– that seem downright radical in a busy and impatient world. — Pitchfork