Sometimes an album just gets right under your skin, becomes one of those things you just can’t stop listening to; an all absorbing passion. How often I have sought out such music, buying albums that promise much all too often not to quite make the grade. But with Shields, Grizzly Bear have delivered one of those hankered after sets of music that just won’t let me go.
Nothing else much has had a look in these last few weeks, no matter how I try to give it a rest, giving rise to that odd dilemma of wanting to hear it all the time but simultaneously worrying I might bore of it and it fades as a temporary infatuation ( in part why it has taken me so long to scribble a few words). Their last, Veckatimest, took an age to wheedle its way into my affections but Shields has grabbed me by the throat from the first listen but continues to reveal new layers, added depths and continual joy.
Wiser souls than I will go through track by track analysing the sounds, erudite descriptions of musicianship and the technical details and niceties. The first half of the album is perhaps the more immediate but in truth, for me, it is the last half, the last five songs that hold the real gold here.
Sonic moments of wonder abound through every track (the track endings are frequently the most splendid of moments) – the burbling synth at 1’36” in Sleeping Ute, the fingers shredding strumming at the end of Speak in Rounds morphing into the dream like short of Adelma; the 80’s feel drumming of A Simple Answer and the spine tingling transition at 4’29” of the same (the last minute and a half is sumptuous); closers, Half Gate and Sun in Your Eyes, would need an essay of their own to do them justice.
So far this year their have been three albums that for me soar above the rest, Sharon van Etten’s Tramp, Shearwaters Animal Joy and Shields. It is perhaps no coincidence that the first two also represent two of he best gigs of the year at Koko and the miserable Oxford Cellar, and I can hardly wait to see GB next month to see if they can make this music even better (they managed to last time at the Roundhouse and on the majestic NPR recording at the DC 9.30 Club).
Truly it is in music like this that I find the release and joy too often lacking elsewhere in the day to day existence. How can it possibly feel to create and produce such flawless, transcendent music? Bless them for doing it.