It feels like it was just yesterday that New York’s Grizzly Bear released Shields, the critically acclaimed follow-up to their groundbreaking album Veckatimest. The albums, released in 2009 and 2012 respectively, demonstrated the best of the band’s abilities and their diverse musical palette. The success of both records propelled the band from quiet folk outfit to a modern art rock powerhouse, a position now solidified thanks to their latest album, Painted Ruins.
Much like their last two records, Painted Ruins is ambitious in its ambient intricacies. This time around, the band has fully adopted synthesizers as a key factor in their creation. These not only beautifully adorn many of the songs on the record, such as “Four Cypresses,” “Aquarian,” and lead single “Three Rings,” but they ultimately enhance the music as a whole.
For a band that is so exemplary in the art of “headphones” music—music crafted with high levels of instrumental complexity— the addition of synthesizers is a huge addition to their sound. Nevertheless, there is still a trace of their folk roots present in many tracks here, especially frontman Daniel Rossen’s “Cut-Out” and “Glass Hillside”. Their folk influence is perfectly embroidered with the more synthetic elements of the album.
As with the last few Grizzly Bear albums, it can be quite overbearing to take it in all at once. Even the friendliest track on the record, “Losing All Sense,” strikes listeners’ ears with synthesizers, harps, crisp percussion, a stellar bassline, and crunching guitars, all of these elements gracefully sustaining the song. Still, it may leave one’s ears overwhelmed, wanting to grasp them all at once. Once again, this just proves that the finest albums are the ones that challenge listeners to revisit and deconstruct their tightly woven displays.
Despite it being their punchiest and relatively brightest record yet, Painted Ruins still has Grizzly Bear demanding the full attention of their listeners, but it is hard not to comply when the experience is ultimately so artistically rewarding. It is this resilience in their craft that sets them apart from any particular scene or style, and what makes Painted Ruins another success for the band.
By Patricia Cardenas