Mike Dupar is ready and able.
Few bands have shape-shifted quite as effectively as Grizzly Bear. Each new album feels singular yet familiar, and their fifth album Painted Ruins, extends that impressive streak of meticulous craftsmanship. The Brooklyn to LA band’s music has always lent itself to obsessive listening and troves of dissertational findings, but on Painted Ruins the quartet offer their most texturally intricate work to date.
Much of this has to do with lyrical communing that Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen seem to be having throughout. Like two close friends, miles apart in perspective, Painted Ruins can play out like an exchange of letters. Droste sounds quietly resolute and wizened, yet still tormented, while Rossen hones in on the smallest of details as if the minutiae of any given moment could hold some truth for both.
The story told across the three-song suite of “Losing All Sense,” “Aquarian,” and “Cut-out” evokes opera, the movements robust and dramatic, but refined into aural vignettes. “Losing All Sense” reintroduces Droste as a singer capable of moving forward from what ails him throughout most of the album, despite the fact that he is still somewhat preoccupied with making sense of another’s “internal route.” Throughout the song there is an optimistic stride that alludes to progress, but as Droste finally admits that he’s “lost all control” against a down-shift in tempo, Rossen appears sounding like some sort of celestial narrator sent to warn Droste of the futility of his line of thinking.
On “Aquarian” Rossen is alone, cast against the backdrop of an ominous carnival, his tone and lyrics reminiscent of someone narrating a tragedy. The bass line swells and coalesces with an oboe’s drone and the crashing wave of cymbals, before yielding to the calm of Rossen’s finger-style guitar work. Droste and Rossen’s dialogue resumes from outside the storm on “Cut-out,” with Droste seemingly no longer in search of a salve.
This three-song movement feels like a shower of fluctuating temperature. The pleasant and deceptive moments of warm rationalization are debased by frigid bursts of reason, the combination of which serves as the best example of telepathic understanding shared amongst Grizzly Bear’s members. The detailed instrumental characterization of Droste’s and Rossen’s lyrics has always been a point of strength for Grizzly Bear, but on Painted Ruins the group’s ability to converse and empathize with one another’s emotions is unrivaled.
Painted Ruins opens with two of Grizzly Bear’s most unexpected maneuvers to date. “Wasted Acres” is a silky soul ballad that has more questions than answers and finds Grizzly Bear at their most seductive. Despite sounding different from the rest of the album, Chris Taylor’s tight production and narcotic bass line, coupled with Rossen’s haunting tone, deliver an atmosphere conducive to the self-questioning and introspection that prevails throughout the rest of the album. As the final note of the piano rings out from “Wasted Acres,” the jogging bass line of “Morning Sound” kicks in and reveals Grizzly Bear at their most radio ready.
The true joy of this album lies in its ability to be interpreted infinitely. As time signatures shift and sounds echo and bounce back to you reformed and changed, one can’t help but rewind and dive deeper. In every crevice of this album there exists a sound or allusion one had previously neglected to find. The brilliance of this construction is that Painted Ruins never feels overbearing in tone from one song to the next. By scrambling and scattering the album’s themes and corresponding sounds, Grizzly Bear have mastered the dichotomy of singularity and familiarity that had previously defined their sound from album to album, this time within a single work.
Like life, Painted Ruins doesn’t present love, loss, and one’s identity as neat, quantifiable things with an obvious point of origin or conclusion, rather it presents these things as something to piece together in any order that comes to mind.