It’s been five years since Grizzly Bear released their acclaimed album Shields, and fans were beginning to wonder if all was well with the Brooklyn-based quartet. In May of this year, the band silenced any doubts about their return by releasing “Three Rings” as the first single from their two year recording process and announcing the release of their fifth album, Painted Ruins. The prolonged recording process seems to have allowed the band to really nail down the songwriting and, as a result, has created their most cohesive sounding album to date.
From the start it is evident that Painted Ruins is classic Grizzly Bear as well as something completely new. “Wasted Acres” starts the album off with some sonic effects before Edward Droste’s vocals emerge. Then Daniel Rossen joins, in classic Grizzly Bear style, to create a hypnotic melody that repeats throughout the track. The rhythm section, made up of Chris Taylor and Christopher Bear on bass and drums, respectively, also help to create some of the new sounds found on Painted Ruins. Effects-laden bass and percussion paired with the type of beats common to the past couple of Radiohead albums find their way into most songs and become just as important to the songs as Grizzly Bear’s signature four-part harmonies. “Aquarian” is one of the most stand-out tracks on the album as it flawlessly combines everything new that Grizzly Bear is doing into one track. Bright melodies meet dark counter-melodies while the bass meanders up and down and the drums stay busy. Chris Taylor also finds himself stepping out from being just one of four vocals harmonizing into the forefront as lead vocalist on the song “Systole” which is a fantastically groovy folk song. Many of the songs on the album seem to address the internal doubts that come with a breakup and that anxiety that results from coming to terms with it. “Since I was a young boy/It was always there/Inside me growing/None of this seems fair/I’ve come to accept it/Let it take the stage/Leave me helpless/Watch me fall away” Droste sings on the closing track “Sky Took Hold.”
Painted Ruins finds the songwriting of Droste and Rossen at its most unified. Where past Grizzly Bear albums often seemed to jump back and forth between styles depending on the main songwriter, Painted Ruins flows so effortlessly it is obvious that these songs were worked on and written collaboratively over the two years it took to record the album. Though there is no upbeat single like “Two Weeks” or “Sleeping Ute” on this LP, almost every song on the album sounds like it could be used as a single, as they each represent the band’s sound so well. Not since Yellow House has Grizzly Bear created something so exciting to listen to.