“So bright, so long / I’m never coming back”
There are handclaps, there are tambourines, there’s a piano, and those words. That declaration from Grizzly Bear guitarist and vocalist Daniel Rossen is how their fourth album, Shields, ends. But could this also be the end for this Brooklyn foursome? In a recent feature in the New York Times, multi-instrumentalist and producer Chris Taylor noted they have no future plans after they tour, no thoughts of a fifth album. Sure, maybe that rumination is just what a band typically says on the eve of their most anticipated effort yet, that their most recent work is to be celebrated and that the afterthought, the musing of what’s next isn’t even appropriate. But what if this is the end, and what if they never come back after this? Is this a fitting end? Is this how you go out, atop the peaks of where you’ve sat for years?
“No wrong or right / Just do whatever you like”
To get to this moment, the foursome had to take a break. After 2009’s Veckatimest increased their profile more than ever before, the band had to retreat and reflect. Solo projects were released and eternal bonds in matrimony were made. And while they were apart and staying away from the spotlight that hosted them, they would soon realize how much they needed each other. They were codependent, itching again to collaborate on music. By summer of 2011 they holed up in Marfa, middle of nowhere, Texas to record, but the sessions were a bust save for Shields opening mantra “Sleeping Ute.”
Fits and starts would continue to occur until they made a move to Cape Cod earlier this year, and the beginnings of Shields were finally in place and the songs began to take shape as they wrote parts for each other - a first. Singer Ed Droste wrote melodies for Rossen to sing over, and vice versa. Songs, like the lightness meets darkness of “Half Gate” were written as they sat around a campfire, though there’s doubt it’s what the kids at summer camp sing. And eventually they were done, pieces of their past stitched to make anew in the present. The late night meditations of Horn Of Plenty, the creaking floorboards in the Yellow House, the baroque chamber pop sensibility of Veckatimest. Together these formed a new bond, a new chapter for the band. This is what Shields was born from.
“No surprise this is often how it’s done"
Some of these songs on Shields shift and mutate right before your ears. They start off in a familiar place and end in the last place you’d expect to venture toward: dark corners of seedy hotel bars; the nightclub downtown; the wilderness on an acid trip. These are places that previously this band wouldn’t even glance at, yet on Shields they steer directly toward them - they are the final destination. “Yet Again” transforms from sunny pop to thunder rock; a raving organ clashes with strings ready to break off guitars at any second. Those drumsticks are splintered into Chris Bear’s hands and snare by the time he calls the song off. The rollicking piano that heads up the front half of the instant classic “A Simple Answer” finds Rossen composing in territories not far removed from those occupied by the Department Of Eagles. About midway through, though, comes another shift in course: the winds and waves pick up as hand claps and harmonies and woodwinds bring you to a burial at sea. The ship rocks and and drifts further from steady footing as Droste & Rossen trade off harmonies and words for the departed. At the bow of this vessel sits “Gun-Shy”, the sexy, more libertine friend of “Cheerleader,” slinks towards the chorus, a sultry aura provided by Taylor’s shimmering vocal.
“Though I’m far gone / You sleep nearer to me”
Rather than just trade song for song, Droste & Rossen share a moment on almost each of the 10 songs, utilizing a call and response tactic. Throughout the album, the notion of collaboration has never been more apparent with this band For every nervous twitch that emotes from Rossen’s mouth, Droste comes in with confidence. Gone are the choir boy notions of before. Droste has grown into his voice and is so confident that when he hits a note as high or as hard as he can, the strain of his vocal chords are there with as much as purpose as any other incidental moment.
These imperfections snap tightly to the craftsmanship they have as musicians; from the meticulous guitar playing to the flourishes blossoming at every verse and chorus. With Shields Grizzly Bear have honed their craft and made it completely their own. Put another way, If Veckatimest was what put them in the spotlight, then Shields does nothing less than solidifies their place in time, their story, and their career. And if Shields becomes the final chapter in this band’s career, so be it. But if their dependence is as important as it seems, those ivory keys won’t be the last breath of this animal.