Originally released in September 2012, Grizzly Bear’s Shields was a wonderfully rich album of lush compositions and textures. Musically it was an adventurous step for the band, expanding on the ground laid by three previous albums in almost every aspect; lyrically it saw the band expand even further, weaving a loose narrative thread deftly in to a dense patchwork of contemporary folk and neo-psych in what was an important decision for the band. “For this record, it was really important for us to try and make sure that lyrics had a weight to them and at least some sense of a narrative” proclaimed bassist and producer Chris Taylor “There were lyrics in previous albums that seemed to have no meaning whatsoever. And that always really annoyed me.” Fortunately for Taylor, it seems as if his wishes came true, as the lyricism across Shields manages to distil an almost feeling of both romantic and platonic distance, that always teeters on the edge of loneliness, without ever headlong in to the gaping abyss beneath. Now, fourteen months after the record’s initial release, the band have released Shields: Expanded, a collection of b-sides and remixes that never made the album’s original cut but are finally seeing the light of day.
Before you go running off to your respective forums and social networks, this isn’t your standard revamped, rehashed re-release. No. In fact, those who have already picked up the original pressing of Shields will be able to buy Shields: B-Sides separately. Furthermore, rather than include your usual live versions or Japenese bonus tracks, as is the case with most album expansions, …Expanded functions more like an EP unto itself, much like their Friends EP which built on the foundations of 2006’s Yellow House in ways unimagined by the music buying public.
With the exception of the three remixes (seemingly arbitrary inclusions in my opinion, however, more on that later), the three demos and two bonus tracks that make up the meat of Expanded seem like a fantastic continuation of the record itself, despite being metaphorically swept and gathered from the cutting room floor. ‘Taken Down’, for instance, is up there with the strongest tracks from the record’s original release, such as ‘Speak In Rounds’ and ‘Half Gate’ whilst ‘Will Calls’ is quite possibly the most accomplished track across the entire collection; a matured exploration of dynamics, the verses are soft and understated, with the vocal duality of singers Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen working wonderfully against a sparse percussive backdrop. The choruses on the other hand, see a far fuller aesthetic juxtaposed against the verses in a manner somewhat akin to bands such as Iron & Wine or Bon Iver this ending the record’s original material on an indisputable high.
The three remixes featured (‘Sleeping Ute’, ‘A Simple Answer’ and ‘Gun-Shy’ respectively) are a mixed bag that don’t really warrant an inclusion, other than to fill some space and will probably only appeal to either completionists or those with an interest in remix culture or even the producers themselves, the remix of ‘Gun-Shy’ in particular a seemingly frivolous affair coming courtesy of Lindstrom that dilutes it’s source material to such an extent that it will have fingers itching at the stop button before even half of it’s seven minute run time has elapsed.
As far as bonus material or whatever the second disk of Shields can be considered, it would have faired much better as a standalone EP, bridging the gap between the record’s original release and that which it will inevitably precede. That being said, the chance for fans to buy only the material as a standalone purchase is something that every band should take note of. Too often does a record find itself being repressed with the added inclusion of demos or live versions, only for the fans of the band to be forced to buy material they already own if they want to hear the bonus stuff, so with that in mind Grizzly Bear have really outdone themselves in that respect.
Musically, the original material here is also quite strong, feeling like a continuation of sorts from the original, however the remixes do seem to the let the record down somewhat, giving the impression of an afterthought as opposed to the reason of the record’s release, but fans of the band will find more to love here and one reviewer’s slightly biased views towards remixes shouldn’t deter anyone who feels they will enjoy spending a bit more time with the band.