By John Thomas Special to the Chronicle
I found Grizzly Bear a couple of years ago when I asked a friend to play “Deep Sea Divers.” I meant the song by Darwin Deez, as I was unaware that my love for him was not universal, but she thought I meant “Deep Sea Diver” off “Horn of Plenty,” Grizzly Bear’s first outing. She gave me a thumb drive of that album, “Veckatimest” and “Sorry For the Delay,” which for the most part lay in waiting, hoping for a play on shuffle here and there just to get by. I’ve never been adverse to Grizzly Bear, but except for a few songs like “Two Weeks,” “August March” and “A Good Place,” they were never able to solidify their place in my cultural consciousness. With “Shields,” Grizzly Bear may have finally stumbled in.
“Shields” listens like a long conversation with a friend you’re always around, but never really talk to alone. “Sleeping Ute,” the opening track, is unremarkable, and I’m not sure why it was chosen as the single, but it works within the album as a whole. It’s a soft greeting, welcoming the listener with a melancholy that lounges off the tip of Edward Droste’s tongue. “Speak in Rounds” follows, a more immediately passionate song that more comprehensively sets the mood of the album than “Sleeping.” From there, Grizzly Bear keeps the visceral, emotive momentum, even through somewhat tedious segue “Adelma.”
Grizzly Bear has crafted an album with a sense of reality that touches at the corners of optimism. “Shields” isn’t refreshing, and it’s not particularly inspiring, yet I can’t shake the sense when listening to “Half Gate” and “Sun In Your Eyes” of some sort of revelation. There is a sense of comfort in the questions and trials of the world that goes beyond a declaration of triumph. “The Sun In Your Eyes” in particular instills a great appreciation for the natural world, but not in an overzealous or pretentious sense.
Grizzly Bear has produced an album that you need to sit back and digest. Even if you’ve written off Grizzly Bear as a Brooklyn Indie experiment that never quite took form, like I had. “Shield’s” wonder is in the patterns of its construction, patterns which are supported by eloquent melodies that work in conjunction while remaining diverse enough to show the skill in which Grizzly Bear can represent the tempered happiness of everyday life. This is a conversation worth listening to.