It may well only be September but you might as well close those album-of-the-year polls right now for we have already got ourselves a winner. It comes from that much revered Brooklyn beat combo Grizzly Bear and it is now in a record store near you. Three years after their transitional Veckatimest had punched a great big hole in the Billboard Top Ten they have finally released its eagerly anticipated follow-up. Yes ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the award for best album of 2012 goes to Shields
Right from the crashing dislocated rhythm and progressive syncopated chords of the opening “Sleeping Ute” you immediately know just exactly how good this record is going to be. Daniel Rossen cries “I Can’t Help Myself” over the contradictions that lie in the song’s tender coda as if he is trying to explain just how imperfectly perfect it all really is. Clearer, louder and much more raw than its predecessor, Shields invigorates Veckatimest’s pastoral beauty with a newly acquired power and passion that owes much to the band’s more collaborative approach to songwriting this time around. Emboldened by the confidence of individual life changes and the process of growing older, no pussyfooting now appears to be Grizzly Bear’s guiding light as the quartet take more and more chances with their song structures and brave amalgamation of styles.
Speaking about the ten songs that comprise Shields, founding member Ed Droste said there are not a lot of them but that they do go a lot of places. He could just as easily be talking about a short history of contemporary music. “Yet Again” welds the beauty of those more familiar Fleet Fox vocal harmonies to a gorgeous melody of glistening guitar and synths, and is then bookended by an electronic flash flood of quite startling ferocity. “The Hunt” could be the sound of Dennis Wilson if he had not gone and drowned on us. Lolloping along across the tundra, “A Simple Answer” adds layer upon gentle layer of guitar, drums and piano at every single staging post that it reaches. And if you could only extract the song’s essence then this is probably what joy would look like. The juxtaposition of “Gun-Shy” and “Half Gate” captures the band’s evolving tastes all the way from classical through to jazz and from vintage Fleetwood Mac to Harry Nilsson, as Messrs Droste, Bear, Rossen and Taylor trade duties with each other, marry up their respective ideas and end up making such sweet, emotionally charged music together.
And then there is “Sun In Your Eyes”, a magnificent sprawling beast of a song for which the word epic was most surely invented and which would be the perfect finale for any album in any era. But this is not just any album; it is the best album of 2012 and quite possibly of many more years to come. Prepare yourself to be dazzled.