Remember when Grizzly Bear was Edward Droste’s solo project? Didn’t think so. And that’s okay; while the disconnect between Droste’s bedroom-pop beginnings and the band’s longtime status as a democracy – with Daniel Rossen at the helm half the time – has been a source of tension in the past, their third album as a full-fledged quartet is sleek and self-assured. Or as Droste admitted in a Pitchfork interview this past June, “As we get older, more confident and more mature, we’re becoming more comfortable with stepping on each other’s toes.”
That doesn’t mean that Shields is marred by muddled ideas and misdirected hostility. Thanks to several “songwriting retreats” in New York and Cape Cod, the effort is decidedly collaborative, an autumnal listen that feels alive and full of welcome left turns rather than heavy-lidded and hazy. The LP’s leadoff single (“Sleeping Ute”) is a perfect example of the group’s push-and-pull dynamics – a tidal wave of rippled rhythms, honeyed harmonies and burbling synths. The rest of the record is much more subtle yet no less effective, as Rossen’s rich melodies and spare riffs play a perfect counterpoint to Droste’s fragile, emotionally-charged confessionals. Repeat listens reveal the hours that went into every hook, too, whether the finish line is reached through windswept strings and woozy jazz (“What’s Wrong”) or one long walk on the beach, a slow build that seems to be on the verge of a total breakdown (“Sun In Your Eyes”). Grizzly Bear emerges unscathed, however, as ready to assume the mantle of Brooklyn’s most promising crossover band as they’ve ever been.