A Renaissance of Ruins
The road to indie rock legend Grizzly Bear’s latest album Painted Ruins was not devoid of obstacles — in fact, it was almost more likely that the band would break up before coming out with another album. After the success of their 2012 album Shields, the members of Grizzly Bear seemed to go their separate ways, the majority of them leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles. However, multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor appeared to have a large part in getting the group back together. In an interview with Under the Radar, it is mentioned that Chris Taylor started a dropbox for the musicians to start working on some new music, and eventually the group started piecing together some tracks doing what they do best — playing off each other’s contributions to create a sound that pushes the envelope of what is often defined as “indie rock.”
Opening track “Wasted Acres” is a gentle entry to the album, opening with dramatic strings and Daniel Rossen’s crisp vocals, eventually dropping into Christopher Bear’s deliberate percussion contributions and Ed Droste’s low, resonant counterpart. It’s a strong opening that’ll excite the listener for what’s to come.
The most popular track of the album, “Mourning Sound” has gotten quite a bit of radio play on indie stations and it’s easy to see why — the driving drum beat, catchy melody and pinging synths make this one easy to appreciate. It’s also probably one of the most straightforward tracks we’ve seen from Grizzly Bear, offering no meter changes. Droste and Rossen play off each other’s vocals beautifully, Rossen coming in on the chorus with a delightfully unexpected melody, “we woke with the mourning sound / It’s the sound of distant shots and passing trucks,” he sings.
Rossen takes quite a front seat with vocals in Painted Ruins and no one’s going to complain. He does so in “Four Cypresses,” a stunning track featuring intricate drum patterns from Bear and the signature throbbing guitars and various textures throughout. “Three Rings” is electronic heavy, Bear again displaying his mastery with subtle, yet complex percussion. Droste sings longingly, “I wanna show you my best side / I wanna be the guy who’s right / I want you to see things clearly / I wanna make it alright” between the dark background and ringing arpeggios in the foreground.
“Cut Out” is another Droste-led track, featuring a light, crisp almost Baroque style, Rossen taking the lead on the chorus which starts off gently and builds beautifully in intensity then pulls back and starts all over again. “Neighbors” is another standout track, adding swells of strings to the multi-layered instrumentals. What’s particularly well executed in this track is the counterpart in the chorus featuring multiple Grizzly Bear member’s vocals, singing in octaves and then adding a Rossen counterpart that’s simply chill inducing.
But perhaps the most unexpected track of the album is “Systole,” in which Chris Taylor takes the lead on the vocals, offering a new sound that’s quite soft and feminine. It lends itself well to the airy synth drone in the background and is the most atmospheric track on Painted Ruins. “Sky Took Hold” is the longest track on the album, closing Painted Ruins on a dark, dramatic note. The outro is the strongest part of the track with power-struck guitars and a simple melody singing the lyrics, “Since I was a young boy it was always there / Inside me growing none of it seems fair / I’ve grown to accept it, let it take the stage / And leave me helpless, watching far away,” and eventually going out on a simple synth chord.
A stunning comeback album for Grizzly Bear, Painted Ruins brings to mind being on the brink of destruction while bursting at the seams to charge forward. Even with their five-year hiatus, Grizzly Bear proves that they’re continuously honing in on their sound and that they’ve got a lot of life left to give.