Review Summary: A bridge to the past, built by well-traveled men.
Upon entering the studio in 2012, Brooklyn's Grizzly Bear was riding on the heels of traction gained by a growing number of appearances at some of America's premiere festivals but they were still mostly flying under the radar with relatively quiet cries for a follow-up to the fantastic Veckatimest
. At this point in their career, Grizzly Bear were largely based in experimental, psychedelic rock, paired with an abundance of melodic harmonies that increasingly placed them on the cusp of breaking through to a wider audience with each successive release. With 2012's Shields
, the band was able to successfully channel their core sound into a much more accessible collection of songs, with a larger indie rock influence than ever before. Shields
was a new peak for the band commercially, and arguably from a songwriting perspective as well, yet it seemed to lack some of the desolate and waning moments of solitude that were characteristic and complimentary to the atmosphere of their previous releases.
Now, with the release of Painted Ruins
, the band has managed to bridge the gap between the Grizzly Bear of old and the sound that brought them the recognition they had been missing for several years before the release of Shields
. This album is not a step back for the band, but rather a beautiful and welcome amalgamation of the sounds they have culminated over the last 15 years. The aforementioned moments of solitude no longer exist as single tracks, but rather fill the gaps between the melodies and the charming embraces that are ever-present throughout the album. The success of this blend may not feel immediate, as the band is subtle in their approach of engagement. The band sometimes manages to build lush walls around their audience before the listener finds they have already made a nice, cozy home for them inside the sound. This can be felt in the slow burn of tracks, such as the fluid 'Aquarian' and the gentle climb of both 'Systole' and 'Neighbors'. Fans of Shields
will inevitably find themselves tapping their toes and getting in-step with the marching 'Mourning Sound', and the seemingly familiar hook that rounds out 'Three Rings' represents a perfect mix of the old with the new; painted ruins, indeed.
This deep into their career, it is inspiring that the band is able to evoke new feelings in their listeners. Along with the singles mentioned earlier, tracks like 'Glass Hillside' and 'Four Cypresses' will please any fan of Grizzly Bear, but the biggest reward from Painted Ruins
lies in its heart-melting closer. The nonchalant, yet intimate delivery of 'Sky Took Hold' makes it quite possibly the best track of the band's career, giving us another ambiguous peek into the mind and heart of frontman Ed Droste. The lines, Who I am beneath the surface? / Hiding out so long inside my mind. / Every day I stay blind to it. / Habit comes and tears me open wide / all the time,
already allude to self-examination and though the closing lines evade a specific issue, they give us a bigger taste of the artist’s mended pain as he gently croons, 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.
With such a warm and seductive album, it is easy to get lost in the endless folds of bliss- a perfect soundtrack to the twilight of summer. But, at its core, Grizzly Bear just want to wrap you up and tell you everything is okay, and with Painted Ruins
they succeed; this bed is yours to lie in if you please.