Grizzly Bear: Shields

Warp Records/Courtesy

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There’s an “Indie Class of 2009” reunion this year, and Grizzly Bear just arrived fashionably late (with an emphasis on the “fashionably” part). The bands that owned the “campus” three years ago —  Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, The xx and Grizzly Bear — have all released new records in 2012, but none are as remarkable as Grizzly Bear’s Shields. On their fourth album, the band has hit their stride, creating not only their best album but perhaps the most enjoyable album of the year.

Grizzly Bear’s 2009 contribution, Veckatimest, was a solid and beautiful effort, but it lagged at times. Though its high points were amazing, its quality was not completely consistent throughout. Shields improves upon Veckatimest’s formula by grabbing and maintaining your attention.

It remains difficult to relate to Grizzly Bear’s lyrics, but Shields’ skillful display of studio wizardry more than makes up for it. Grizzly Bear expertly combine the cerebral, technically tricky art-rock of Dirty Projectors with the pleasant folk harmonies and lush arrangements of Fleet Foxes. We get the best of both worlds — a psychedelic mish-mash of unique song structures, intricate ornamentation and beautiful vocals.

Finding this terrain where abstract experimentalism meets catchy melodies can often be elusive, but Grizzly Bear roam across it with confidence. Opener “Sleeping Ute” epitomizes this convergence, featuring varying time signatures and stop-and-go tempos, providing a backdrop to a meandering but captivating melody. Fascinating instrumental flourishes abound — the bass tone on “Gun-Shy” or the flutelike synth line on “A Simple Answer.” And “Yet Again” could very well be the best song the band has ever written, with its swirling, ornate production and founding member Ed Droste’s impeccable melody.

Shields’ rich textures and agile arrangements take Grizzly Bear to new heights. Droste puts it best: “There’s not a lot of songs, but they go a lot of places.”

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