By Becky Little (@sometimesboring)
5 years. A lot can happen in half a decade, and a lot has happened. The outbreak of ebola, two sets of Olympics, Brexit, the list continues. Within that time the musical world has been rocked and seen inspiring heights and shocking declines of many a band. What hasn’t happened since 2012, however, is a release from folk-rock giants, Grizzly Bear.
The New York four-piece, which many group in with the icons from the 2000’s age of indie rock (think Vampire Weekend, Interpol, The Strokes), have been off the radar for quite some time. However, their latest studio album Painted Ruins has been heralded by many as a triumphant return and something for other bands in their league to aspire to. What with the current climate for indie bands to be receding into low quality rubbish (ahem, Arcade Fire…), it’s admirable that a band such as Grizzly Bear want to take hold of the reins of indie again and show the industry how a comeback is really done.
Even from the first listen, it appears that Painted Ruins has definitely lived up to the hype. MourningSound, the second song of the album, is a beautifully catchy but equally dark track, with their signature use of acoustics similar to those used throughout their previous and incredibly successful effort Shields. It’s one of those songs which you can perfectly imagine booming around a packed-out arena with fans losing their minds over its grandeur. However, what really lifts this track as well as the album itself is their fantastic use of synths, which have been expertly utilised throughout to provide so much more depth to certain tracks. A brilliant example of this is Glass Hillside, which starts out as quite a mellow number, but once the chorus comes around you easily find yourself bopping your head to the lyrics about “the only ride in town, object of all desire.” (Could easily be digging at someone, you reckon? Gotta love cleverly slagging people off.)
A notable feature of Grizzly Bear releases since the days of Horn of Plenty and Yellow House is the sheer detail and thought put into every note played. Painted Ruins does the band so much justice, and the sheer musicianship of Droste and co is demonstrated perfectly, with each member playing to their full potential. Four Cypresses; a stand-out track progresses from intricate yet frantic percussion through to a grand baroque-style masterpiece. This truly reflects the sheer strength of Grizzly Bear as a collective, with Droste, Drossen, Taylor and Bear creating uniquely anthemic tracks with such delicately balanced and mismatched sections which in some way makes total sense.
It’s phenomenal that each individual layer of each song is so clearly heard, which must be an art they have been perfecting throughout their discography, as Three Rings can easily be likened to Sheilds’ Sleeping Ute with its sprawling melodies. Additionally, another detailed and layered track which is a highlight is Cut-out, in which we see the band potentially dealing with past romance. “Inhale your older self, cut it up and let it go” could easily be interpreted as Droste reflecting on his past and gaining a new lease of life, which we all need to do once in a while.
Overall, the album is so phenomenal that some could argue that it has genuine healing properties. What Grizzly Bear have been doing for some time is creating music which is unconventional yet appeals to so many. They arguably shaped the scene with the release of Veckatimest in 2009 which propelled them into the mainstream with huge track Two Weeks, and now they are back to do a very similar thing but in a very different way. Painted Ruins is an album which will shake the indie scene once more and reaffirm their place as one of the most unique bands on the circuit. Long live Grizzly Bear.