Album review: Grizzly Bear-“Painted Ruins”


Photo courtesy of RCA Records, Grizzly Bear returns with a new, impressive album

Kaitlin Wong, A&E Editor

After the conclusion of the “Shields” tour and taking a year-long hiatus, the four members of indie rock band Grizzly Bear have reconvened with their fifth album, “Painted Ruins.” The album flaunts their lyrical talent, thoughtful instrumentation and their distinct imagery.

Grizzly Bear began as a solo project by singer/guitarist Ed Droste. The first album released under the name was in 2004, entitled “Horn of Plenty.” Drummer Christopher Bear contributed to the album and was eventually permanently added to the project along with bassist Chris Taylor, and singer/guitarist Daniel Rossen.

“Painted Ruins” starts strong with “Wasted Acres,” one of the many songs produced by Taylor. It’s a track that seems like it can’t help but boast how impressive Grizzly Bear’s instrumentation is. The track features clean guitar melodies, entrancing vocals and synthesizers. The eerie sound manufactured by the synthesizers creates a feeling of underlying tension and mystery throughout the seemingly serene and peaceful track. Furthering the concealed tension, Rossen coldly questions, “Were you even listening? / Were you riding with me?”

Another highlight of the album is “Mourning Sound,” a track that has a heavily electronic based and pop-influenced sound. With both Droste’s and Rossen’s vocals, they lament over their regrets and paint how dreary life seems, while the lighthearted synthesizer melody and stable drumming by Bear create an ideal balance.

“Three Rings” is an outstanding track because of its clear feeling of desperation. A pitiful attempt to sound commanding accentuates the desolation in the track: “Don’t you ever leave me/ Don’t you feel it come together?” While “Three Rings” excels in its imagery, “Glass Hillside” earns attention through its daring composition. Utilizing an electronic sound reminiscent of an old arcade game, which seems extremely off putting considering the number of artists that try to incorporate it, yet fail so miserably. Grizzly Bear manages to pull it off by accompanying the electric sound with soft guitar melodies and vocal harmonies that allow each individual sound in the track to be clearly heard without overpowering one another.

Despite the overall success of “Painted Ruins,” several low points in the album include “Four Cypresses,” “Aquarian” and “Systole.” Despite the exceptional instrumentation, each of these tracks are lacking. “Four Cypresses” is a soothing track that builds and builds only to have a payoff that lacks the spark to match. Similarly, “Aquarian” and “Systole” fail to grab attention and evoke the imagery and emotion that the other tracks so adeptly do.

The closer, “Sky Took Hold,” is the perfect fit for the end of the album. The first verse starts out calmly, gradually leading up to a burst of Droste’s vocals, hard-hitting drums and synthesizers. The outro of the track is the absolute grand finale as it provides such an intense outpour of anguish. After the long battle with his fears, Droste finally accepts defeat and surrenders, “I’ve grown to accept it, let it take the stage/ And leave me helpless, watching far away.” “It” is never clarified, which is part of Grizzly Bear’s style. Rather than storytelling and controlling every single detail, they allow listeners to fill in the blanks and have a more thought-provoking experience.

On “Painted Ruins,” Grizzly Bear stays true to their lyrical structure as well as other trademark traits, like their calming instrumentation, while showcasing their improved ability to generate a wide range of emotions and a more mature sound. The final product of the combination of these elements is a beautiful, riveting album that Grizzly Bear truly owns.