Grizzly Bear have been a beguiling fixture in my life since ‘Veckatimest’. This led me back to their full band debut ‘Yellow House’ (the first Grizzly Bear album ‘Horn Of Plenty’ was essentially an Ed Droste solo work) which is also a good listen if now comparatively lacking the sophisticated production of the band’s latter works. The announcement ‘Painted Ruins’ would be released this year made this record, for me, perhaps the most anticipated release of 2017. It’s always a tough ask, when a record is so looked forward to, for it to live up to expectations. So how, in my honest view, does the LP fare?
On first listen it did feel like a bit of an anticlimax I’ll be honest. The overall vibe was a bit dreary and there didn’t seem to be any standout tracks in the same way as ‘Veckatimest’ had ‘Two Weeks’ for example and ‘Shields’ had ‘Yet Again’. With these aforementioned albums, the aforementioned tracks have the effect of presenting some peak moments, as far as my listening experience goes anyway. But there’s a however coming. HOWEVER. Something drew me back to ‘Painted Ruins’. Perhaps it was just the knowledge Grizzly Bear are one of the best groups around and deserve my time. Perhaps it was, as Ed Droste told Pitchfork, ‘I always want to give an album at least five listens. Because it unfolds upon you. You keep discovering things.’ This has indeed often been my experience. Some of my favorite albums took some time to grow on me. It’s a sad fact that these days with so many artists competing for our attention, some of the more interesting ones don’t get a look in because their music’s not delivering the instant musical junk food fix listeners are often craving.
Conjecture aside, I’m really glad I did give ‘Painted Ruins’ more time. Whether it will become one of my favorite albums of all time or even my favorite Grizzly Bear album, I’m not presently sure. But I am pretty certain it’s going to be one of my favorite albums of the year. What it lacks in a really catchy radio-friendly ditty (perhaps ‘Losing All Sense is the best candidate), it more than makes up for in consistency. This is an album in the more traditional sense, in that it is a complete work, seemingly unconcerned with catering to the earworm crowd, and more focused on presenting something that works in its entirety as a standalone statement. Yes with pop music, or whatever tag we want to use, it is often doing its job if we still have the song stuck in our heads, ideally when we wake up the next day. Notwithstanding, some paintings or photographs you can glance at and generally remember the gist of how they appear in front of you. Some however are larger in what they encompass, more intricate in their detail and more difficult to pin down. This doesn’t make them any less valuable or valid a form of expression. On the contrary, the reverse is often probably true. For example, I remember staring at Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ for quite some time. When I walked away from the painting I couldn’t recall much about it. But I knew it had made an impression on me.
The painting comparison is probably quite fitting for Grizzly Bear. Their arguably abstract arrangements shift in unexpected directions so much that by now this has, ironically, become quite expected. Also fitting then that the album title alludes to painting. What I find most striking about Grizzly Bear’s music, particularly evident on ‘Shields’ and now refined on ‘Painted Ruins’ is the sonic movement bursting out of the arrangements. The former was mix engineered by Michael Brauer and one can only presume the same is true of ‘Painted Ruins’ given the feel of the panning and clever use of compression, if that’s not overreaching. Either way one could assert Brauer has been instrumental in developing Grizzly Bear’s increasingly unique sound, which band member Chris Taylor also obviously deserves great credit for given he’s been the producer of all four albums of the band proper.
Often on TSOFD we’ll cover an album track by track. For ‘Painted Ruins’ I’m not going to do this as it feels more apt to consider the record as a whole. So I’m just going to state, listen to it. On decent headphones ideally. And then listen to it again and again.
‘Painted Ruins’ is out now on RCA.