Album Review: Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins

Grizzly Bear have always made the sort of stylistically complex music that’s been hard to place in any one genre or even accurately convey to another person – they’re just… Grizzly Bear. Sure, you could spend an hour explaining what exactly chamber and baroque pop are, but the only way to truly understand Grizzly Bear is to listen. Their true charm lies not in their individual talents, but the way in which they bring those talents together while writing, recording, and performing, as if they exist as four heads resting comfortably on top of a large, singular body, complete with a harpsichord under one arm and a guitar in the other. Having since evolved from the Ed Droste fronted debut Horn of Plenty in 2004 to a four member group, the band has played around with different aesthetics throughout the years, afterwards with each member taking the time to understand their own style and purpose in the band as well as society. And now, five years since 2012’s Shields, they’ve returned with a stunning and, as is their want, an amazingly complex, textured album flawlessly conveying the process of decay, epiphany, and, partly, the slow, grueling process of rebirth, projecting those concepts inward into the self as well as out into the world around it.

Forget for a moment that Painted Ruins’s opener “Wasted Acres” is about riding an all terrain vehicle through a field and instead focus on it’s haunting repeated lyric sung by Daniel Rossen: “Were you even listening?” Although the rest of the song feels awfully esoteric and unfamiliar to the point of uneasiness, it’s an incredible strategy for the overall flow of the album – Rossen’s hollow tone mixed with the sensation of brooding, fantastical drums is the invitation into another one of Grizzly Bear’s intricately designed, heavily textured worlds, and he proceeds to ask you if you’ve ever taken the time to listen to your own desires, if you’re listening to the voices within yourself in the midst of a changing environment, begging you to tell him what you need, to trust him. Rossen repeatedly acts as your direct link connecting their world with the one in which you are familiar, being for the most part direct, outspoken, and hopeful, while Droste acts as the constant, incessant internal noise, the one that you feel you’ve battled and dealt with time and time again, even if you’ve never had to endure the pain of a breakup, the pain of not fully understanding yourself, or even just the pain of existing in a morally corrupt society lead by an equally corrupt leader, the last bit unfortunately being more accurate today than ever.

Despite the emotional weight of Droste’s contribution, Painted Ruins nonetheless explores the idea of re-enamoring yourself after the process of breaking apart, and is repeatedly explored in the lyrics, and we hear Droste’s laments of decay at an almost equal par with Rossen’s hopes of rebirth. Subsequently, there’s a wonderful sense of tension as well as a sense of resilience from enduring that tension, each song sounding like a catalyst for some sort of meaningful epiphany. As a result, Painted Ruins feels warm to the touch, housing a smoldering, aggressive nature begging for the chance to be released. Their instrumentals ricochet off each other while Droste and Rossen act as a tag team vocally, “Mourning Sound” being a wonderful example of their powerful dynamic. Droste sets the tone with his deep drawl, lamenting his mistakes and the slow decay of his love (“Let love age/ And watch it burn out and die”) and Rossen meanders in afterwards, riding the wave of bright guitar strums and electric synth, awoken to sounds reminiscent of wartime chaos, including “dogs,” “distant shots,” and “passing trucks.” It’s the first of the songs mostly dealing with decay and ruin, followed by the somber “Four Cypresses” and the idea of slow deterioration, the cypresses themselves directly symbolizing death as well as the life that came before it. Rossen repeats twice within the track that “it’s chaos, but it works,” which seems to be a catch-all phrase for their entire discography, from the quiet calamity of Yellow House to the colorful, bombastic Veckatimest, to the textured, complex Shields and now to this aggressive, brooding masterpiece.

“Three Rings” is the first to question the emotions long since buried deep inside, Droste asking through the midst of experimental, industrial sounding instrumentals if this is “the way it is” before sinking into a somber, teary-eyed “Ready, Able”-esque bridge of desperation and anguish, begging his beloved “don’t you ever leave me,” promising he can “make it better,” to make himself better too, if he can fit it in. It’s one of the handful of tracks that address the concept of epiphany, and as a result, the instrumentals usually begin with Christopher Bear’s relatively minimal chunky percussions and Chris Taylor’s disjointed bass plucks, only to later be met with a wave of techniques and styles that wash over to fill the space. Another, “Cut-out,” one of our absolute favorites on the album, also addresses the idea of letting go, to carve away at the parts causing you pain and eviscerate that “invading spore” within your body, “inhale your older self,” and move on. Instrumentally, it’s also one of the most interesting, beginning with a beautiful, subtle guitar melody and Droste’s voice swelling and deflating with ease, Rossen later acting as the chorus to his lead narrative, the voice of reason and action.

“Neighbors”’s grandiose composition and heartbreaking narrative hints at the idea that pain and strife are everlasting and seemingly impossible to prevent despite the human ideal to move on, perhaps even claiming it as part of the process to rebirth. Droste lamenting in drawn out breaths that “face to face/ We’ll watch our bodies break,” while Rossen lurks underneath with his own lucid tone, agreeing that yes, they “left [him] broken” and “helpless.” Closer “Sky Took Hold” is also one of the most stunning on the album, as it utilizes the power of Droste’s voice in the context of soliloquy, arguably where he shines most. After a soft, gentle introduction, the metallic synth that follow resemble five concentrated lightning strikes, which Droste uses as fuel to propel his voice higher until it seems to dissolve into the ether. At the end, he confides in the listener in the battlefield of instrumentals: “Since I was a young boy it was always there/ Inside me growing none of it seems fair/ I’ve grown to accept it, let it take the stage/ And leave me helpless, watching far away.” It’s a moment of clarity despite the noise it unravels itself in, and serves as a brilliant conclusion to an already dense, beautifully esoteric work.

Although the album contains the feelings of self-doubt and unease, the sense of hope and the chance for rebirth always seems to sit idly by, even sometimes embedded in the fibers of its complex instrumentals. In this, the image of the title’s painted ruins comes to mind, in both its negative and positive connotations; on one hand, the process of painting over something that has shattered seems fruitless, but on the other, it also symbolizes the act of moving on, taking into account your pain and your flaws and using them as the foundation for something even more beautiful than it was before. And sometimes, internal noise and external noise has the ability to cancel each other out, leaving in its wake something calm and lovely, and Painted Ruins is a fine example of just that, perhaps even one of the finest of the year. 



photo by Tom Hines

Grizzly Bear – “Neighbors”

Grizzly Bear have released the video for “Neighbors,” their fourth single from their incredibly anticipated fifth full-length album Painted Ruins. The new track, following the experimental, indulgent “Three Rings,” upbeat, unpredictable “Mourning Sound,” and the Daniel Rossen fronted “Four Cypresses,” sounds the most like the signature Grizzly Bear sound – a little fantastical, a little somber, but mostly addressing something large, deep, and more or less esoteric. Ed Droste’s rich voice hastens with the increasingly chaotic instrumentals throughout the track, communicating an unfortunate narrative that addresses a diminishing sense of individuality and raw nature to make room for something more domesticated.

Painted Ruins will be released on August 18th.


photo by Tom Hines

Grizzly Bear – “Sleeping Ute” (Song of the Week 7/3/2014)

GrizzlyBearShieldsEvery time I listen to Grizzly Bear, I am constantly impressed by how many different techniques, melodies, harmonies, and, most of all, feelings they can fit into one song. Their sound is definitely unique, with each of their four albums sounding completely independent from the others, and each song is so wonderfully strange. Strange in that beautiful way, of course. It’s easy to admire them because of the fact that the members of the band have this energy when playing with each other and always seem to maintain a strong sense of focus and power, which must not be easy when trying to portray the correct emotions. However, their closeness really shines through and they always succeed in giving off the perfect vibes. It also helps that front men Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen both have such delicate, gorgeous voices, and the fact that those voices alone could stop any listener in their tracks. Since Droste’s is the most associated with Grizzly Bear (based off of the extreme popularity of their song “Two Weeks”) not many people know how evocative and breathtaking Rossen’s voice actually is. His voice is so mesmerizing in their song “Sleeping Ute” which is also dominated with heavy guitar chords and melodies and aggressive drumming. That thick fog of instrumentals is beautifully downplayed and balanced out with the softness of Rossen’s voice and the poetic lyrics, and creates this untouchable ambiance throughout. The song is made even more enchanting with the inclusion of the interlude towards the end, where everything slows down and mimics a sort of peacefulness after reaching a point of discovery and self-awareness. “Sleeping Ute” combines so many feelings and emotions but never loses it’s fragile composition, and it’s a song I always find myself going back to on gloomy days. “Sleeping Ute” is from Grizzly Bear’s album Shields, which was released in 2012.

P.S. Sorry this Song of the Week post (and some of my other posts) are late. I was so busy this week, and now I have to play catch up. However, I love a good challenge.




Band Appreciation Friday – Grizzly Bear

I told you I would stay

Grizzly Bear is a perfect example of a band that constantly exudes resilience. They went through a dynamic musical evolution, complete with the creation of four unique studio albums and multiple EP’s, and managed to come out triumphant and successful on the other side. They went through changes, alterations, additions, and subtractions, yet always maintained a strong sense of confidence and tenacity. I simply adore their passionate work ethic, their personality, and of course, their fantastic music.

homepage_large.79336a26Grizzly Bear was initially formed in 2002 as a solo project by now-front man Ed Droste. He wrote, played, and recorded their first album Horn of Plenty with only little contribution with now- drummer Christopher Bear. Then, at the live shows, the pair was often joined by now-bassist Chris Taylor, and then soon after the group was slowly completed with the addition of guitarist Daniel Rossen. Ed Droste admitted he enjoyed the feel of  a complete band instead of just “mumbling into a microphone” by himself, and soon the band’s evolution truly began. Yellow House was released in 2006, and it was considered a complete transformation from the first. This album was indie folk at it’s finest. It contained focused, whimsical guitar melodies along with choral like vocals that tied everything together. One of the opening songs titled”Lullabye” is exactly that – a romantic, soothing waltz that sounded dreamy and almost like something out of a scene in a beloved children’s book. The slightly more aggressive (well, as aggressive as Grizzly Bear can get) track “Knife” comes next (my personal favorite from this album), where Droste’s and Rossen’s vocals sweep you off your feet and the intense bass notes envelop you in sound. “Little Brother” is an eerie melody with strong instrumentals, and Plans gets a little crazy with mixing. This is where the album takes a bit of a turn. “Marla” is a beautiful mixture of sounds from accordions, flutes, guitars, violins, and just about anything and everything else. The result is something powerful and wonderfully overwhelming. The album wraps up with “Colorado,” a fateful yet hopeful story with gorgeous vocals that yearns for the future. Yellow House was revolutionary in both it’s strong instrumentals and brilliant songwriting, all without seeming too overused or repetitive, which is why it was regarded as one of the best albums of it’s time period. However, the best was yet to come.

homepage_large.ca8738cbVeckatimest, my personal favorite Grizzly Bear album, was released in 2009. I just love the way it totally grew apart from the second album, in which newer, more complex techniques and the introduction of newer instruments changed their sound completely. They went from purely indie folk to a more psychedelic, dream-esque style of music. The band was really starting to gain popularity at this point, given that they got the legendary chance to open for Radiohead and following the intense success of their second album. “Southern Point” opens the album with a bang. Right away you can sense there’s a glowing, shimmering sense of maturity in the mixture of styles and influences. It flutters and erupts in glorious ways, intertwining the tenacity of strong vocals with the innocence of plucked guitar notes. And of course, this album has the most famous Grizzly Bear song “Two Weeks,” where a repetitive, bouncy guitar melody propels the whole song into a whole other dimension. The vocals on this unbelievable track are nothing short of perfection, and it inhabits a sense of whimsy and naivety, something that sounds absolutely incredible, and there simply is no other song like it. The simple tracks “All We Ask” and “Fine For Now” follow, and then the waltz of “Cheerleader” takes center stage. This entire album seemed a bit more accessible in it’s entirety, and seemed a bit more put together than Yellow House was. It’s my favorite because you never really knew what would happen next, and that sense of unpredictablity is what ultimately drives any indie band. Some might say these songs can be boring, which only shows that some just don’t listen as closely as some of the rest of us do. There’s complexity underneath simplicity, and these four guys can do it all.

homepage_large.2216b29aShields was released in 2012, and is Grizzly Bear’s fourth studio album. I can say it’s the band’s most intense, aggressive album to date.  I can hear many different styles (like the stereophonic tone of the Black Keys and the dynamic tones of Animal Collective) carefully embedded in these songs, and they are incredible overall. The album opens with “Sleeping Ute,” where the guitar is absolutely stellar and the drumming is fantastic, not to mention the incredible lyrics that tie it all together. The intensity is toned down at the very end with the trademark Grizzly Bear guitar riff. “Yet Again” soon follows, and the playful, jazzy tone in both the instrumentals and the lyrics makes it a highly addictive song. Ed Droste has a gorgeous voice, and it is definitely showcased more here. The smooth, flowing track “Gun-Shy” follows, and is definitely the dark, dismal, hypnotic track on this album. “Sun In Your Eyes” is the dynamic finisher, and leaves you wanting more. Overall, Shields proved to be an extremely impressive album with an intense complexity and virility not found in their earlier works, and it was deemed one of their most amazing albums to date. I love Grizzly Bear because they don’t turn you away. They know how to pull you in with their accessible pieces, then know how to keep you listening. Each song they put out drips with passion and love, and as a band, are incredibly close and comfortable. I can’t wait to see what they will bring to the table with their next album, because I know it will be absolutely fantastic.





Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks”

220px-VeckatimestgrizzlyEvery single one of New York based band Grizzly Bear’s songs is incredibly unique, so you’re bound to find at least one you like. One of my absolute favorite Grizzly Bear songs is the mellow yet exhilarating melody titled “Two Weeks.” Frontman Ed Droste’s voice quickly switches from a deep baritone to a soft falsetto while being backed up vocally by the rest of the band, and the end result is beautifully chilling, almost like the soundtrack to a dream. This was by far the most popular song from this particular album. Grizzly Bear has had, in total, four impressive studio albums, each one being better than the last. “Two Weeks” is from their third album, Veckatimest, which came out in 2009.