Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins Album Review

Grizzly Bear's new album has all the elements we've known from the band but this time the result is definitely more intriguing

Warp Records

 August 18, 2017


Morning comes, the bear is “howling at the field”, in the guise of a hound. A bit changed, still wild. So the hunt to unscramble the new Grizzly Bear album begins. After 5 years the band from Brooklyn is back, and, even though the elements are still the same, do not expect more “Two weeks” or “Yet again“, in that case you will abandon this LP after just a couple of spins. The mutation happens without creating a new image, but deforming the old one: we’ll find ourselves again on rhythmic rides over expanses of synths, where the guitars go disseminating ambiguous forests, haunted by moody tunes. The switches of atmosphere we got used with 2012 masterpiece Shields become inconspicuously extreme, unforecastable, sometimes hard to follow. The beast carries us in and out the woods, showing a multitude of landscapes we have seen before, but struggle to recognize. From the Bark Psychosis like base of “Three Rings“, dressed up like some Tame Impala’s mesmerizing hymn, we get to the chord sequence of “Losing all Sense“, right out from Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. “Cut out“, which alternates curly guitar riffs which could be in some album by The Shins with dreamy choirs sessions, leads us, through the psychedelic schizofrenia of ” Glass Hillside“, to the tribal choruses of “Neighbors“, the track that mostly recalls GB’s previous works. For the general attitude, it’s undeniable the continuous reference to Radiohead, that becomes most evident in those moments when tracks stretch up and leave space to enjoy unusual progressions: meticulously studied sound stratifications of songs such as “Four Cypresses” and “Systole” strongly recall A Moon Shaped Pool‘s suspended atmospheres, but, for some reason, each piece struggles to stay cohesive from the bottom to the top and inevitably result into violent transitions. By the way, this multitude of references does not invalidate the unity of the LP or the identity of the sound that, through disturbing sequences of warped chords and Ed Droste’ lyirics, can be mistaken with no other band’s. It contributes though to make each track hard to read and, at first contact, one may think of a lower level album, which is not the case.

The key of interpretation given by the track “Four cypresses“, ” it’s chaos, but it works”, only partially explains the apparently incompatible set of samples that GB manage to harmonize with a care for details that has little to do with random decisions. Taking tools from inside their repertoire, Grizzly Bear created something that overflows the dams of the genre: by disguising, twisting, putting them in counterintuitive order, the band from Brooklyn matches familiar sounds into unfamiliar patterns, so that each song is only understandable outside the overview of the genre they have been tagged into.

Carrying the burden of being the only non-explicitly electronic band of one the most influential labels of our time -Warp Records- Grizzly Bear face the challenge of keeping up with the times with success: Painted Ruins, together with albums like A Crow looked at Me, Crack-Up and A Deeper Understanding, through reinterpretation of old tools, manage to give new life to a genre that in 2017 appeared to be as good as dead. The only point is the weakness of the single, “Mourning Sound” manifestation of a general lack of a peak of the LP, where a constant high level of the tracks hardly reaches the climax of inspiration the band has managed to achieve in the past.

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