Grizzly Bear – Shields

“No wrong or right, just do whatever you like,” Ed Droste cries mid-way through his band’s latest offering, but it’s pretty clear Grizzly Bear don’t practice what they preach. Evidently, the band are doing something right here. While their last three albums fell to way-side with criticisms of being too ethereal and floaty, ‘Shields’ is snagged by no such nets; visceral and earthy, this is an album driven with a definite sense of purpose.

Everything has been honed down into a sharp, defined point, like a pencil freshly removed from the electric sharpener and still unused. Yet it doesn’t remain rigid or oblique. Every instrument in the mix has some part to play, there is neither too much nor too little. ‘Shields’ is a lucid, multi-faceted piece of work and the more you listen, the deeper you are pulled into its balanced layers, each adding something particular to its immaculately blended harmonies and rhythms.

Opening with the punchy polyrhythmic “Sleeping Ute”, Grizzly Bear do not restrain the venom in their bite at any point on this album. Even the quieter, down-tempo tracks “The Hunt” and “What’s Wrong?” still contain the same unfettered energy that permeates ‘Shields’ like a scarlet thread in a tapestry of beiges and blues. Even the band’s typically passive-aggressive lyrics have lost their complacency; lines like ‘make a fist’ and ‘speak don’t confide’ seem almost too direct for a Grizzly Bear album. From the melancholy distortion on “Yet Again” to the furious drums on “Half Gate”, Grizzly Bear have lost any apathy they once bore.

Their best album by a clear country mile, ‘Shields’ is Grizzly Bear with the volume turned up to eleven. The reserve and restraint are fraying at the seams and for once the band’s namesake is no longer an antithesis to their music. There is something wild and untamed at the heart of this album and it’s not afraid to burst through. If this really is Grizzly Bear doing whatever they like, clearly they should just continue.