Albums Of The Week

Music review: Grizzly Bear’s Painted Ruins is familiar yet fantastically alienated

(From far left) Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen, Christopher Bear and Chris Taylor make up Grizzly Bear.
(From far left) Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen, Christopher Bear and Chris Taylor make up Grizzly Bear.PHOTO: RCA

Alt-rock quartet Grizzly Bear's fifth record, Painted Ruins, has a cosy lived-in vibe tempered with an awareness that life can be fleeting

Call it the "same, same but different" vibe, a disorientation that permeates an experience and makes one do a double-take. Or call it the mid-career switch-up, the reboot.

Just like how their West Coast folk-rock contemporaries Fleet Foxes have returned this year after a six-year hiatus with an album full of glorious yet reconstituted melodies, the alt-rock quartet Grizzly Bear also sound familiar and fantastically alienated at the same time.

After 2012's Shields, band members upped from their Brooklyn base to go to upstate New York and Los Angeles, where they pursued individual side projects and got married.

You may thus read all sorts of semi- autobiographical or socio-political references into the title of their fifth record, Painted Ruins, and you may not be far off, but don't depend on the band to confirm or deny them.

For instance, it may refer to co-frontman Ed Droste, who moved to LA to salvage his relationship with interior designer Chad McPhail, but to no avail. Or it may allude to the band's commentary on the state of the American union or the world - Droste campaigned for Democratic presidential nominees Bernie Sanders and, later, Hillary Clinton.

Either way, Painted Ruins feels completely lived-in, yet that lived- in-ness, a cosy luxury, is filtered through an aching awareness that all is fleeting and can be hijacked.

  • ALTERNATIVE ROCK


  • PAINTED RUINS

    Grizzly Bear

    RCA

    4/5 stars

Songs such as Aquarian, Four Cypresses and Glass Hillside have an otherworldliness, suspended between knowing and obfuscation, beauty and meltdown, a collage of emotions felt and half-understood.

"Every moment brings a bitter choice/The knowledge you can't win with what remains," sings co- vocalist Daniel Rossen over an inexorable processional beat in Cut-Out.

Three Rings, the lead single, is shot through with the complex, symphonic U-turns one has come to associate with them, but the lyrics make you feel that everything is at risk.

"Don't you ever leave me/Don't you feel it all come together?" pleads Droste in a droll monotone over an intoxicating brew of cluttering percussion, intricately layered keys and an off-kilter bassline. It feels like music you can drown in, literally.

The track Neighbors is an incongruously gorgeous dirge about a relationship gone sour, but there's no bitterness, just regret. "Face to face/We'll watch our bodies break/Not a care in the world/That's the way you play," Droste pines, joined by Rossen - a harmony in voices, if not in intent, as both ride a panoramic soundscape infused with galloping drums and sweltering synths.

The same interpersonal dialogue extends to Losing All Sense, where the scruffy jauntiness changes midway to a chorus where Droste asks, in relative slo-mo: "Could I ask you not to cut into me/Dividing all of my body for me?"

It's as if the chaos, the menacing chitter, all "the distant shots and passing trucks", clears for a few seconds, and the message is crystal clear.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline 'Beauty from the ruins'. Print Edition | Subscribe