Record #439: Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins (2017)

painted ruins

Any time I find myself in a conversation about how modern music is garbage, I always bring up Grizzly Bear. Veckatimest is a flawless record that deserves to be listed next to albums like Pet Sounds and Odyssey and Oracle. It was a breakthrough that netted them an invitation to tour with Radiohead.

Grizzly Bear might have been doomed to live the rest of their career in the shadow of one perfect record, but the records that have followed have been similarly glorious.

Shields saw the group exploring sparser arrangements and a more measured composition. But, the record had a hard time maintaining the bliss of the first few tracks. The last half slowed the tempo down to dangerous levels, and the record ended up being a little forgettable.

Painted Ruins, though, is pure fire. This is a return to form that isn’t a mere retread of Veckatimest. While that record was all bright-eyes and youthful exuberance, Painted Ruins is a more sophisticated turn that takes the lessons of Shields and grows with them. The grooves are groovier, pushing the record along with a swagger they’ve never had before. “Wasted Acres” rolls on with a groove that’s dripping with voodoo. “Three Rings” propels along with a drum beat that wouldn’t be out of place at an EDM festival.

There’s some frenzy too—”Losing All Sense” and “Aquarian” freak out along arpeggiated keyboard lines and bursts of Daniel Rossen’s pitch-shifted guitar.

All of this is punctuated by some of the most emotive melodies of their career. The sparse “Systole” in particular is as delicate a song as they’ve ever written, undercut by a skittering drum beat.

But let’s be honest: at this point in their career, all Grizzly Bear needs to do is live up to expectations. But Painted Ruins does far more than that. It showcases a group that is still at the top of their game, refusing to give in to the pressure of their immense success. Somewhere in an alternate universe, this record is getting all of the accolades that Veckatimest got.

And by God, it deserves it.

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