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Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins (Album Review)

Tuesday, 22 August 2017 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Tom Hines

Alongside Alt-J, Metronomy and (to some extent) Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear occupy a particular space in modern indie. They produce some of the most thoughtful, innovative pop music around while lacking one key component: a superstar front-person.

The singers of those bands are unquestionably skilful, highly intelligent performers, but they don't have the iconoclastic power of Thom Yorke, Alex Turner or Karen O. And that might be the only real flaw with Grizzly Bear’s fifth album, ‘Painted Ruins’.

This is a record of remarkable composition and joyous melancholy. Songs like Four Cypresses and Mourning Sound reanimate the juddering groove of their 2009 breakthrough, ‘Veckatimest’, while building on a now signature approach to vocal blend.

Its wailing two or three part harmonies offer languorous, long phrases that frequently find their way into the next bar via heady mix of laconic enjambment and circular-sounding percussion.

Elaborate, yet tastefully handled, tempo changes also run throughout ‘Painted Ruins’. Three Rings uses a handsome three-time drum motif as the foundation for a song that builds into mystical, swirling majesty. Elsewhere, Cut Out channels some of the most nimble and satisfying chord changes on the record, while showing off guitarist Daniel Rossen’s penchant for watery chunkiness via a kind of introverted confidence.

Probably the most intensely well-engineered spectacle of indie music making here is Glass Hillsides. This is a song that weaves through various time signatures and musical modes to find its way to a sort-of harmonic round that - given another two minutes - might resemble some of Yes’s best work on their album ‘Fragile’.

Indeed, were Grizzly Bear formed in the late ‘60s, they might have made a decent prog-rock band, and other songs on ‘Painted Ruins’ suggest this. Neighbors operates as a kind of folkish breathing exercise, swelling and collapsing like a nimbus of wistful passion as eerie, campfire harmonies guide us through the musical woodland. Album closer Sky Took Hold is another hymnal spectacle of primal patience and explosive emotional complexity.  

Grizzly Bear are a band that on their day can go toe-to-toe with Radiohead for melodic elegance and songwriting inventiveness, but nobody seems to speak about them in those terms. It may be that infuriating lack of charisma mentioned at the top, or it might just be that their lyrics aren’t quite punchy enough. With a record this densely beautiful, it really is a coin toss as to whether that matters.

Grizzly Bear Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed October 04 2017 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Thu October 05 2017 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Fri October 06 2017 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Sun October 08 2017 - GLASGOW O2 ABC
Mon October 09 2017 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Tue October 10 2017 - BEXHILL ON SEA De La Warr Pavilion

Click here to compare & buy Grizzly Bear Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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