Grizzly Bear's 'Painted Ruins' Controls the Line Between Optimism and Despair
    • THURSDAY, AUGUST 17, 2017

    • Posted by: Peter Hammel

    Painted Ruins can mean a number of things. The latest LP from Grizzly Bear could paint anything from the very real and impending global clashes to the everyday drudge of bearing an internal conflict. In between these options exist issues of immigration and homelessness, lingering relationship questions, and downright pessimism. However, in a follow-up to 2012's Shields, an album that embodied incessant somberness, Painted Ruins controls the line between optimism and despair.

    A lot of shit is going on at the moment (no shit?!), but in a recent interview with Pitchfork, Grizzly Bear bassist Chris Taylor said, "We're four guys in our mid-30s, and the world is going into a really crazy-ass direction," a direction filled with fatherhood and global thermonuclear war, divorce, and a refugee debate. This movement is dangerous for all of us, but, for the band, it results in some of their most poetic work yet. Ed Droste's dreams and selfish truth come alive on "Three Rings" where he begs for better ("I wanna be the guy who's right") and asks "don't you know that I can make it better?" to his divorced partner. "Four Cypresses" drum rolls over destructive chords, eventually mutating into elegance as the band chorales "living in a pile / tangled in a pile / it's chaos but it works", a smart, timely commentary.


    Painted Ruins exhibits a solid collection of colorful musical moments, such as the chord flow at the end of "Wasted Acres", the shadowy layout of "Four Cypresses", and the polyrhythmic interlude within "Three Rings". All tracks refrain from immediately gripping our ears but instead make us wait for a stunning build, which is something the band is best at. Every song features flirtatious chords, cycling through modal breakdowns. More often than not, the pieces at work here never feel instantly rewarding, sometimes not until the end of the track. The plain yet ephemeral jingle ending to "Losing All Sense" is a terse treat. Equally heavy bass and guitar strums that conclude "Glass Hillside" accelerate into a zig-zag. Closer "Sky Took Hold", a step sister track to Shields' closer "Sun In Your Eyes", buzzes with synths and crass horns that could use more flexing, but, in spite of a new timbre on this record, the dramatic outro feels vintage Grizzly Bear. A conscious ear is required on this record, both to decipher enigma lyrics and relish in musicality.


    Performances from all Grizzly Bear members on this album are tight, almost overachieving for such a dubious album. Much applause is due to Christopher Bear's percussion which gives every tune their "crazy-ass" liveliness. As a follow-up to Shields, the new formula at work here that walks the line between happiness and regret is a heavy change. It's clearly Grizzly Bear at work here, but this time ambiguous as ever in a era where empathy feels required.
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