These songs are labyrinths. Ethereal, harmonic, beautiful—but labyrinths nonetheless. So, that is to say, Shields is a difficult, rewarding album—one to get lost in.
Gorgeous and frayed, the wandering begins with “Sleeping Ute,” an opener with the waking dream feeling of an all-nighter meeting sunrise, with Edward Droste singing off-kilter and mythic riddles of “those countless empty days left me dizzy when I woke,” amongst the slither and slurp of Daniel Rossen’s guitar. A signal of what is to come, though pleasing in timbre, in meaning they are somber.
Building with determined drums, “Speak In Rounds” gathers before it bursts into prog rock twang, a strange sort of King Crimson creaminess, before breaking apart in cymbal crashes into the soft, spacey transition of “Adelma.” The band gathers together for “The Hunt,” with Daniel Rossen playing the role of crestfallen choirboy, wandering about jagged guitar strings and ruffled cymbals, singing of relationships lost and selves found, turning cutesy rhymes of “and I’ll leave it all as it should be / where you are you and I stay me,” wearied, and, in a way, wonderful.
The band rediscovers “Ready, Able” beauty in “Yet Again,” with its swaying stacks of “oh-oh-oh” harmonies and exploratory percussion—a light, tasty morsel of the kind you wish there were more of on the album, though perhaps it’s uncouth to demand such pop from these artists.
A nervous whisper of strings opens “What’s Wrong,” a slow, organ-soaked ballad that interrupts its introspections with interjections of “everything all at once” and “just go,” a certain kind of dejected tantrum. The standout is the six minutes of “A Simple Answer,” an optimistic spiral of synths and exhortations to “soldier on, but please not so long, this time.” The band gets increasingly elemental in “Gun-Shy,” with murmurs that “the sky keeps staring at me” and, later, “the cold keeps tearing at me.” Their world, it seems, has grown inhospitable.
Perhaps, in another era, the boys would have laid beneath weeping willows, for their wan pithiness is upper-R Romantic, such as in the alternately harmonious and discordant “Half Gate,” with Rossen confessing that he feels “Content to be alone / A quiet picture drawn each day, before it ends / to remind me why I’m even here.” There is a steeling present, against wintry difficulties ahead, and, indeed, behind.
The resplendent trudge concludes with the seven minutes of “Sun In Your Eyes,” a Sisyphean sketching with a chorus of “By the look on your face, the burdens on your back, the sun is in your eyes” amidst a swell of horns and harmonies, a creative tension that, for the most part, works.
By virtue of its beauty, Veckatimest became a part of its listeners lives. Shields has a similar opportunity to be integrated, but there’s something straining in its seriousness. Though at time reaching heavenly heights, Shields is, as the name suggests, a heavy, protected album, stuffy with an ennui particular to the young and gifted. It’s evidence that Grizzly Bear may be one of the great bands of their generation—if only they’d smile a little more. Or maybe, it might be said, that their sadness is our signature.