There’s that old cliché about the sum and its parts. In indie today it’s hard to find a band with the traceable evolution of Grizzly Bear, where each member seems to have grown so much outside the band that the sum is equally dependent on four very distinct personalities.
And with all four sides remaining relatively steadfast, Painted Ruins becomes a spectacular new chapter in the band’s catalogue that makes the most of their individual sensibilities and experiences . Their abstract, dreamier soundscapes become grounded in modern realities (“Are you even listening, DRX 250” unfurls under the light haze of Wasted Acres). There’s regret entrenched in these songs, a decorated weariness that reflects their separate journeys.
But it’s not so much the drama “shit happens” but “ok, shit has happened again”. That maturity envelopes their sound, which still remains distinctly Grizzly Bear – stabs of guitar punctuate the low-key, almost military style drum beats that roll through songs like a low fog. And through it dance Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen, the latter shouldering more emotional resonance on songs like Four Cypresses. Funnily enough, given the latter’s recent divorce, that two male vocalists of a leading indie band spar with each other often gives both Droste and the words themselves a new dimension.
Where it dips a little is perhaps in the more commercial aspirations of Losing All Sense, but Painted Ruins is one of those albums that gets even better the further it gets along. It’s in the final act that Grizzly Bear remind us just why they are so celebrated, particularly in the breathtaking Neighbors. “I write your name down with a sense of dread,” comes the simple line, delivered with a melody that communicates more in its cadence than most can manage across a whole album. It hits again on the gentle caress of Systole, a pastoral beauty that feels like the start of more optimistic growth.
“Conversation stalls, and after so long there’s nothing really there,” Neighbors goes on to say. And that’s the irony in why Grizzly Bear are such a success this time. They may have set out to make a more upbeat record, but in giving each other the requisite space they’ve come back with more to say than ever before. In the wake of life’s devastation they’ve created this majestic palette, painting its ruins to form something of undeniable beauty.