Grizzly Bear Releases Undeniably Poignant Album ‘Painted Ruins’
Grizzly Bear, a once Brooklyn-based indie outfit, has changed locales to Los Angeles for its first new album since 2012’s “Shields.” The change must have done them good as their new project, “Painted Ruins,” is quite possibly their magnum opus. This well-thought-out tapestry is as introspective as it is pointed, and their new record label clearly picked up on this. Grizzly Bear completed this album in full before even getting picked up by RCA, their first major label signing. This quartet, made up of founder Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen and Chris Taylor — all of whom are multi-instrumentalist singers — and capped off with drummer Christopher Bear, is more cohesive than ever before, making “Painted Ruins” their most exciting work to date.
The album opens with “Wasted Acres,” an almost theatrical introduction meandering through minimal and mysterious lyrics like “Howling at the field/The clearest of days/Where does that hound run?” with mentions of singer Daniel Rossen’s beloved TRX 250 four-wheeler sprinkled throughout. “Mourning Sound,” continues with Rossen singing in a mix of ranges about using the TRX 250 to haul firewood with his dog in Upstate New York. These lyrics work over lo-fi instrumentation like fuzzy guitar solos and wide snares. While Rossen likes to spend time in the mountains, he calls Santa Fe home, the rest of the band resides in Los Angeles. Taylor, the album’s producer and the band’s primary bassist, takes production credits for their various recordings in L.A. and Upstate New York. Perhaps the changes of scenery lent to this quilted album. Regardless, though, throughout the two years of composition, Grizzly Bear made sure to craft “Painted Ruins” with the utmost intricacy.
“Aquarian” is a clear example of the sheer production value and attentive care placed upon this album. Bear’s jazz-like drums are meditative amongst Rossen’s psychedelic-inspired lyrics (“Astral actor, find your light/Walk beside your shadow light”) lend to the booming instrumentation with a flair reminiscent of The Beatles. The 60s and 70s are alive and well throughout with “Neighbors” serving as another prime illustration. Those early folk singer-songwriters would be impressed with Droste’s prowess here amongst the layered vocals of the rest of the band. Reverbed guitar, flute, saxophone and synths combine to make this cosmic flight all the more tangible. “Three Rings” continues this trend with Droste once again taking lead over a complex drum pattern from Bear and equally impressive composition from Rossen’s metallic-sounding guitar, all building to a colorful crescendo of sound.
Since Rossen and Droste tend to switch off and on as lyrical leads, each song tends to surprise and illuminate new moods. The Rossen lead “Four Cypresses” features a lyric video that’s part art-student film, part home movie, and gives a solid, yet confusing visual into what must go on in his mind as he’s crafting one of these tunes. “Living in a pile/It’s chaos but it works” sings Rossen in one of the opening lines. But what he says about his writing process seems almost too simple: “I don’t like sitting down and writing lyrics. I prefer when they just happen…”
Much of what fans will find lyrically is either incomprehensible or highly interpretable, which, when reading through the songbook, seems to be by design. A challenge to fans or a means to keep them constantly engaged? Certainly any fan would agree either way is welcomed. As a whole, many fans said that it would be hard for them to top 2006’s breakthrough “Yellow House,” which shot the guys into folk-fandom territory. But Grizzly Bear is a rare example of a band able to overcome a music industry arc they were destined to follow. “Painted Ruins” is proof in spades.
“Painted Ruins” is available Aug. 18 on Apple Music.