Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, multi- instrumentalists Grizzly Bear return with Painted Ruins, their first album since 2012’s Shields. And indeed, it finds the foursome of Ed Droste, Christopher Bear, Chris Taylor and Daniel Rossen in fine form.
‘Wasted Acres’ is cold and haunting with a reverb sparseness that sets the tone for Painted Ruins. Droste asks “Were you even listening? Were you riding with me? Were you even listening?” Swelling strings augment the mood on this classy opener. ‘Mourning Sound’ has a full-bodied riff that propels the song forward. There is a sumptuously slinky synth melody that stays long in the memory, the vocals are intimate like a gentle whisper into the ear. The harmonies are lush, soaring at points and held back at others. ‘Four Cypresses’ is awash with chorus effects and a strident beat. Lyrically meditating on living alone and looking on as the world passes by: “Living in a pile, It’s chaos but it works, planes flying overhead so early, dreadful sound”.
‘Three Rings’ begins with a low end rumbling intro and sixteenth drum beat which gives way to a circular guitar motif. This is a band willing to play with sound in different ways to create an atmosphere. It is a strong song illustrating the breadth and depth of Grizzly Bear’s songwriting ability.
‘Losing all Sense’ sees a slight departure as it swings and swaggers with a call and response style drum and guitar. The chorus, rather than lifting the song slows things down and it is heartening to see a group play with convention and ideas of tempo. ‘Aquarian’ is ambitious with a belter of a bass line that swoops and slides along. Bright guitars punctuate building the tension until it gently lands. ‘Cut Out’ offers more of the same yet you never get the sense that the group are simply repeating a formula rather you find they are riffing on a theme and playing to their strengths. ‘Glass Hillside’ looks at the state of America: “a country drifting in permanent repose”. It is reminiscent of 70’s prog rock at its very best (yes you read that right).
‘Neighbours’ highlights that Grizzly Bear have endless melodies in their locker. They keep things tight and the middle-eight here is a thing of beauty twisting and turning the song in another direction. ‘Systole’ keeps up the standard, full of honesty and reminded this reviewer of the mellower parts of Pink Floyd’s Animals and the album closer ‘Sky Took Hold’ is a tribal marvel that manages to merge quiet anger with beauty rather splendidly. Make no mistake – Grizzly Bear are back.