"This is a foreground." That was the last lyric left hovering in the mist of Grizzly Bear's breakout 2009 album, Veckatimest, and it's a pretty good image to describe what it's like to listen to one of their records. The key word there is "a," signifying one of many. Whether it's the ethereal, friendly-ghost vibes of Yellow House or Veckatimest's pristine chamber pop, Grizzly Bear create music in deep focus; what's going on in the margins of their songs is just as important and expressive as the center. Taking cues from artists like Talk Talk and Van Dyke Parks, the Brooklyn four-piece make pop music with an ear for the ambient, asking us to notice the importance in detail, the beauty of texture, and the foregrounds that exist all across our spectrum of perception.

While there's no question that Grizzly Bear's last two records have sounded gorgeous, critics of the band have wondered if that's enough. Shields, the band's fourth and most compositionally adventurous record, should put those concerns to bed. Though full of baroque, detail-rich production and latticework melodies, Shields also offers an emotionally resonant core. The album is an excavation of loneliness, melancholy, and self-reliance. It's also a demanding record, without an instantly gratifying single like "Knife" or "Two Weeks" to hook restless ears. But the rewards that come from immersing yourself in it are odd and profound. Shields feels like a summation of Grizzly Bear's strengths, drawing a line from the muddy, minor key sonic palette of Ed Droste's home-recorded Horn of Plenty and stringing it to the heels of boundless ambition...

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Grizzly Bear - Shields