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Grizzly Bear – 'Shields'
By Jonny Ensall
Could it really be that Grizzly Bear have been listening to London post-dubstep don Burial? Before you spit out your skinny chai latte in shock (yeah, that's how we're characterising you, the Grizzly Bear listener) the four-piece haven't adopted skittering electronics and warped samples for their third album. But the vocal hook on the second track of 'Shields' does share an uncanny resemblance with Burial's 'Archangel'. 'Couldn't be alone,' croons GB's Ed Droste at the chorus of 'Speak in Rounds', using the same words, and tune (almost), as the Ray J sample Burial snatched for his track.
Considering that a large portion of the groundwork for 'Shields' was done on a camping trip in the American deep south, Burial's urbanity is unlikely to be an influence the group were drawing on. The deja vu moment is probably the result of Grizzly Bear's ability to capture the uncannily familiar in music. This album sounds like home. Not my home, necessarily, but an idea of home in the old fashioned American sense – somewhere made out of wood, with a river, and a girl. Somewhere you can ride away from, but always come back to.
And 'Shields' is a ride. The complexity and jumpy qualities of the band's 2009 classic 'Veckatimest' have been replaced by smooth, rolling, road trip music; some of which ('The Hunt' especially) captures the same restless spirit as Irish group (and Grizzly Bear support act) Villagers. Droste was always the Grizzly Bear main man, but 'Shields' has space for the songs and voices of the band's other members. Nothing has been lost in terms of quality. 'Gun-shy' is a psych-tinged expedition; 'The Hunt' a slow, reverb-heavy wallow. The playing is immaculate throughout.
Only a couple of times – on 'What's Wrong' and 'Half gate' – does the balance tip into wheedling, over-sensitivity. These are songs for pained ex-boyfriends, and they miss out on the inherent hopefulness of the rest of the album. Getting to that sweet point at the centre of nostalgia and regret, hope and despair is a hard task, and one which it's unlikely Grizzly Bear would have succeeded in so well if it wasn't for turbulence the group experienced in the break after 'Veckatimest'. Their reunion as friends is a match for any romantic recoupling in terms of the sheer beauty contained within human relationships. It's a story we all know well, but – like those snatches of familiar tunes – something we're happy to hear again and again.