With the last 8 months feeling like a decade in their own right, it’s hard to believe that 2012 was only 5 short years ago. In case you forgot, in 2012 Barack Obama was president of the United States, white-nationalist fringe groups were hiding beneath the rocks they were born under, and Donald Trump was a washed up reality show joke. The airwaves insisted on barraging us with the likes of Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen, but still, one didn’t have to stray too far into the underground to hear the latest singles from Grizzly Bear. “Sleeping Ute” and “Yet Again” helped pull Shields all the way up to number 7 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart during the week of its release. Now—in a very brave new world—it’s time to see how the band’s latest work stacks up against an entirely new backdrop.
After what has felt like a lifetime, the boys from Brooklyn are back from their 5 year break with the release of Painted Ruins. From the first track, “Wasted Acres,” it becomes evident that this is a new sounding Grizzly Bear. Daniel Rossen’s unmistakable raspy pipes ring out over strings that quickly evolve into a slow drum shimmy and what sounds like Grizzly Bear’s version of a boom-bap beat.
Never ones to shy away from challenging traditional song structure, Ed Droste and the boys continue that trend of defiance and simultaneously double down by challenging their own sound as well. For songs like, “Four Cypresses,” “Three Rings,” and “Aquarian,” Christopher Bear channels his inner Phil Selway and turns his drumming into a main feature. Often times on Painted Ruins, the drums are the clear driving force behind the melody and end up living in a space that is much more forward in the mix than previous albums where guitar choirs and keyboards ruled.
This new feel for percussion does not in any way mean that the band has forgotten about their love for guitars or keys, though. Grizzly Bear still shows that they are masters of creating spacey, shifting dreamscapes built by strings of both the acoustic and electric varieties.
Not only are there potential candidates for chart contention on the album—with accessible yet dignified tracks like “Three Rings” and “Mourning Sound”—but the latter of the two is ripe with remix options along with the very groovy and very relevant, “Glass Hillside,” my favorite track of 2017 so far. Once again, the band has managed to elevate itself to a very new place without selling its soul. The overall sound of the album is refreshingly mature for a band that has just become old enough to obtain its learner’s permit; 15. The band has clearly utilized every moment of the last third of its life effectively. They’ve been able to craft something not entirely familiar to their fans, yet still produce a sound that is unmistakably Grizzly Bear.
Painted Ruins comes to record players and earbuds with serendipitous timing. The album acts as a reprieve from the unsettling, and as a reminder that beauty still exists in what can seem like such an ugly world.