2009 saw Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest play bridesmaid to Merriweather Post Pavilion on more than a few year end lists, including Metacritic's all important total list - Grizzly Bear took eighth that year of all music, second in critics' top lists. This year we see Animal Collective, Baroness, Mount Eerie and Dirty Projectors all come out with records; the only difference in 2012 is that Grizzly Bear is in pole position to take more than a couple year end lists.
Shields, from the moment "Sleeping Ute" starts to where "Sun in Your Eyes" ends, is abrasive, gorgeous, and fully engrossing, never feeling hindered or forced - the first time I previewed the album my jaw gave way. The album, in a year where Indie's heavy hitters all planned releases, far exceeds any expectations I had for it - and my expectations were extremely high, having been severely disappointed by both The xx and Animal Collective.
On the surface, Grizzly Bear haven't done much to change up their sound, not like Animal Collective seeing the reunion with Deakin ultimately producing a "too many cooks in the kitchen" situation and maximalist poppycock. It's still the same full band that released Yellow House in 2006, but Grizzly Bear continues to grow. Songs like "Yet Again" and "What's Wrong" perfectly blend elements from Yellow House and Veckatimest, while "Adelma" sees the band's first use of a purely instrumental interlude track, one that has its own movement and doesn't request a skip; Shields is perfectly planned out and executed to be an album, and entity.
While Veckatimest was dark, at some times even brooding, Shields seems much more cheerful: a band comfortable with its current state of affairs. Grizzly Bear has always impressed me with its use of acoustic and electric guitar - a formula so traditional that I try to avoid any music labeled as such - but they always sound fresh and inventive, despite their tried and true formula. The non-traditional tunings, brittle electric guitar tones, and syncopated rhythms are what make Grizzly Bear unique in the already too specific freak-folk genre.
I can see Shields taking a lot of critics' top spots on their year-end lists, not just because of how inconsistent this years' followup records were, but certainly by its own accord. A gigantic display of raw talent, originality, and growth are what make Shields my favorite record of the year so far -- so sorry, Mr. Ocean.
Final Grade: A
P.S. Check out singles "Sleeping Ute" and "Yet Again" below, and don't forget to pre-order at the band's website.