The quartet first reconvened last summer in Marfa, Texas, with the loose plan of rehearsing and demoing new material and seeing where potential songs for the next album stood. Almost nothing stuck, but that was fine. In Texas, they were reconnecting as friends and musicians, and the material would surely come. Against the inclination of the digital world, they took their time.
“Clearly everyone had been in a very different space,” says Rossen, “so most of the Marfa time was seeing each other again, trying things and feeling each other out. We all had to meet each other again.”
When they reconvened in January, again at the immortalized Yellow House in Cape Cod, they were anxious to return to Grizzly Bear. Indeed, Shields depends upon the urgency of a band whose members have opted back in. For the first time, they wrote more songs than they needed and scrupulously edited the ideas. For the first time,
Rossen and Droste wrote songs together, taking each other’s ideas and extending them and executing them with a new vitality. And for the first time, they tended to move forward only with the songs that were most open to true quartet collaboration. Asked which tunes on Shields belong to which songwriter, every member balks and explains that, for the first time, these are actually full-band numbers. Both in process and product, this is Grizzly Bear as they’ve never been.
“Sun in Your Eyes,” the seven-minute close to Shields, stemmed from a piano melody Droste wrote and discarded but that Rossen picked up as a pet project and spent weeks building, changing and rebuilding. The result is one of the most brilliant and audacious pieces of Grizzly Bear’s oeuvre, dependent upon the same mix of drive and drift that shapes the bulk of Shields. Though soft at the edges, “Yet Again” pushes toward the status of rock anthem, with a bridge that refracts dance beats through a musical kaleidoscope; the slow creep of “What’s Wrong” commands an answer, its antiphonal vocals and anxious strings giving voice to a frown and a sigh. Those open emotions are an integral part of Shields, the most cohesively written album of Grizzly Bear’s career. The words come matched by a sound that is more passionate than proper, a quality earned by spending less time on the perfect take than on the proper feeling.
“This has a different energy behind it,” concludes Droste. “Veckatimest was a little more of a polite album; the desire to keep the vocals smooth might have kept a little distance between us and the audience. This one feels a bit more rough and exposed, so that on Shields, everything speaks for itself.”