Album of the Week: Grizzly Bear, 'Painted Ruins'


Grizzly Bear, 'Painted Ruins'
Grizzly Bear, 'Painted Ruins' (Courtesy of RCA)
Mark Wheat - Album of the Week: Grizzly Bear, 'Painted Ruins'
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Back in 2009 Grizzly Bear released Veckatimest which set the template for what was described in reviews as 'prog-folk' or 'lush chamber pop'. Adjectives were created to try to describe their sound because it seemed untethered from any of the old notions of rock, pop, or soul. They were never compared to any other band. They seemed not to even sound like themselves, from one song to the next. This also set them apart from all the other bands that had been based in Brooklyn in the early 2000s. As the recent book Meet Me In The Bathroom explains, the sudden rise of The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs compelled anyone living in the cheapest rent area (at the time) in NYC to believe they could do it too. Almost overnight every new band that we played on The Current seemed to come from Brooklyn, it became a running joke. So to emerge so many years later not only intact but apparently doing their best work is a fine achievement.

Most of the band members now spend more time in California than NYC and have worked in film and TV scoring during the five year gap since their last full album Shields. Their music has never been easy to "get into", and they freely admit that you should listen at least five times before making any decision about them. But even after protracted study over the last two weeks it has been hard for me to connect with this record, in the ways that I usually do. Are the lyrics saying something to me, does the chorus work, where ARE the hooks?! But that's the point with anything labelled "prog", it's meant to push us as the listener out of our regular routines. It's beautifully constructed, cinematic in scope, a tad soulless, but again that's my old routine.

I like that the music meanders in a way that leaves you unsure of where it's going next, it's nicely constructed as an album. Track one is an intro, overture, the shortest song, asking us if we're really listening, paying attention, setting us up. Track two the closest thing to a 'single', which is the song we've been playing first, 'Mourning Sound'. They conveniently provide a nice lyric sheet with the album which meant that I could figure out that this song title has the 'u' in it, suggesting the song is about regretting the loss of someone or something, but the actual words are just alluding to the sounds heard in the early part of the day! The piece builds through the first half culminating in the strongest songs at #5 'Losing All Sense' and #6 'Aquarian'. 'Neighbors' at #9 creates the illusion that we know where this is journey is heading then suddenly we hear what at first I thought was a guest female vocal, take us down another path on "Systole" and we're done with a mystery left hanging in the final track.

It is producer and band member Chris Taylor singing for the first time on "Systole", otherwise Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen share lead vocals, harmonizing occasionally to great affect, but adding to the disjointed presence that the band creates. The songs are all listed as joint compositions, a working scenario that is seldom pulled off with such aplomb. They're set on being a democracy of four skilled instrumentalists and songwriters, and on being willfully experimental and obtuse. As Ed was quoted as saying in a glowing review and interview with Uncut magazine, "The disadvantage is that if it's a democracy, sometimes things you really love fall to the wayside..." Perhaps I would react more immediately to the members' solo work, those moments that they love but lose, or the out-takes from this laudable "lush prog-folk chamber pop classic".


Grizzly Bear - Official Site

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