Grizzly Bear songs are almost instantly recognizable. The choral oohs, thumping guitar lines, mellow drums. After the release of its third LP 2009’s Veckatimest, the band seemed to have perfected its signature sound, which then begs the question: Had Grizzly Bear peaked? But rather than longing for the days of Veckatimest, keep this in mind when picking apart the band’s latest album, Shields: The Grizzly boys are growing up.

Grizzly Bear

Shields
Warp


After touring for Veckatimest, the foursome got some well-earned rest. Regrouping began with a shaky start in weirdo wasteland Marfa, Tex., until they eventually headed north to Cape Cod and New York for some quality recording time. In an interview with Pitchfork, singer/song-writer Ed Droste explained how the recording process for Shields in comparison to past albums was more democratic and less Ed-Droste-and-the-Grizzly-Bears: “As we get older, more confident, and more mature,” he said, “We’re becoming more comfortable with stepping on each other’s toes.”

Grizzly Bear’s maturation is definitely present in the music, but the gray hairs are, for the most part, flattering. There’s a modest quality to Shields — it’s less hook-driven and more wandering. Most songs take their time, like the seven-minute closing track “Sun in Your Eyes.” The most balanced merger of old and new is “Half Gate,” a vibrant track that begins with a solemn cello, then gallops away into echoing meditations of love and death. This is a song full of someone else’s memories, emotion, nostalgia. Grizzly Bear doesn’t need to rely on oohs and ahs to fill a song anymore — the band has some stories to tell.

Still, there are moments where the album becomes longwinded. One of the shortest tracks, “The Hunt,” seems to drag on for years, while melancholic strumming does little to keep listeners actually paying attention. The song is uncluttered, a single voice — naked and expressive — creating a modest melody. Such an emphasis on lyrics above musicality can be dangerous. It’s clear that “The Hunt” is an extremely emotive song, but it becomes a bit self-indulgent after it fails to go anywhere. After the three minute mark, you become the frustrated grandchild, sitting through another one of grandpa’s digressive dinner table fables.

But Grizzly Bear is more than capable of producing a melodic addiction. “Sleeping Ute,” the opening track and first single off Shields, seems almost like it was released specifically to appease the anxieties of hungry fans who still haven’t been able to get the poppy piano line of “Two Weeks” out of their heads. Melodic and quick, “Sleeping Ute” swaps dreamy vocal harmonies for intermingling instrumentation led by a sharp guitar line. But still, the song is filled with Daniel Rossen’s beautifully lugubrious longings. It’s common knowledge that Grizzly Bear is a lot more teddy bear when it comes to feelings and emotions, but there’s something more haunting about “Sleeping Ute.”

This is a rich, weighty album that has decidedly less bounce in its step than its predecessors. Lean back in your velvet arm chair, pour yourself a fine wine, maybe light a cigar, and enjoy the album at your leisure while a grandfather clock ticks on in the background. One more reminder that we’re all growing up.

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