Friday, September 14, 2012
Grizzly Bear: Shields (Release Date: 9-18-2012)
The issue with Shields is a remarkably distinct, uncomplicated one: it lacks fire. Embodying just about every problem on display here, the unfortunately aptly titled What's Wrong arrives a bit past the album's mid-point, elating and frustrating in the very same manner as the rest of the track list. It opens with a jaunty rumble, deep drum patterns adorned with Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste's hushed croons, and a slew of varied instrumentation. These are the trappings of yet another Grizzly Bear home run, all in the vein of the haunted house wonder-work that is Yellow House, but just as we build to climax, the quartet pulls their punches to an almost painful degree. The tune slips away, drifting off into a misty, unformed outro that seems to disregard the building tension of the track's first-half wholesale.
This happens again... and again, and again. Yet Again, Half Gate, and Sun in Your Eyes all follow suit, alluding to something enormous and cathartic before turning into vapor in the face of delivering such a blow. Speak in Rounds looks a tiny bit further into its aggressive potentials, but it's hardly the stuff that head-banging is made of (and besides, it sounds waaay too similar to Veckatimest's superior Southern Point to really impress). Forgive my vulgarity, but the best description that I can conjure is musical blue-balls, where the excitement of many tracks' opening halves causes an almost physical discomfort when the band repeatedly refuses to make good on their promises. This all goes without mentioning the rag list of numbers that almost neglect to stimulate at all, The Hunt, A Simple Answer, and Gun-Shy all noodling along in pleasant, forgettable fashion.
By no means is Shields a bad album, but it's a disappointing one by nearly every measure. Had another band released it, one who hadn't reached such heights of musical wonder over the last several years, I might be more inclined to laud its sharp production, and its smattering of lovely tunefulness. But we've already heard these guys drop the bomb on Colorado, seen them ascend to pop heaven on Two Weeks. There's only one track here that threatens to do such damage (Sleeping Ute), but just when you feel like the album opener is ready to make the walls around it shake and crumble, it pulls back, and waves a white flag. Grizzly Bear is way too smart to have done all of this bait-and-switch stuff on accident, and this reluctance to explode does cast Shields in a unique light from its two adored predecessors, but at what cost? The disc often feels counter-intuitive for no real reason, more determined to confound expectations than the delight or impress. It's trail-blazing by means of neglecting to trail-blaze, and if that logic makes as little sense to you as it does to me, you're probably in for a let-down.