Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins (RCA)

Grizzly Bear has always been one of those bands that have been recommended to me by friends and that I have listened to intermittently on my generic MP3 player without fully engaging in their musical journey. But in a musical world saturated with disposable pop “talent”, it becomes instantly obvious from opener Aquarian that you are in the hands of master craftsmen.

Radiohead has previously avowed themselves big fans of the band and on the new album Painted Ruins the love flows back with songs full of skittering beats, blobs, heavenly keyboards and dramatic loud/quiet passages. Ed Droste managing to provide heart to songs that in other less assured hands could become jazz school sound collages or even horror of horrors noodly rock. A good dose of 80/90’s synth love helps to make the songs sound relevant to 2017’s musical landscape.

Teased via the band’s website and Instagram accounts earlier this year, the album arrived after a birthing process that started when bass player and general play everything guy Chris Taylor set up a Dropbox account for the band. Other band members were invited to share ideas, sounds, textures, chords, anything the only rule being that there were no rules. That process gave them two songs but managed to kick start the creative juices with the rest of the album falling into place when the band reconvened in New York in 2016.

Recorded during a time of madness in the U.S. of A that has seen Trump come to be president on a platform of fear and hate, and seen at least one member make headlines with his Instagram assertion that he lived in a ” “fucked up racist country.” it is not too surprising that some of this political opinion has ended up in the songs.

Glass Hillside and the lush, dystopian Four Cypresses are the obvious candidates but elsewhere Mourning Sound, Neighbours and Sky Took Hold also reflect  personal and political reactions to living in such an environment.   All of this would of course not matter if the musical ideas that gave shape to these lyrics were sub par.

The good news is that the band sound positively inspired. It’s clear to me they really enjoyed using new tools and methods to come up with tunes, as there is an energy to the performances that is infectious.Often songs start with an exciting rhythmical beat and then flow and ebb at you, like a high tide. Strange sounds lurk just out of earshot and are registered just before they disappear.

Not to say that songs are not without hooks. Mourning Sound propels you forward with a tight pocket of bass and drums that is both familiar but somehow arranged in such a way as to sound fresh as. Sky Took Hold starting as it does with its pounding drums that could be from songs by Queens Of The Stone Age, Foo Fighters or Joy Division before the treated guitar slashes cut it down to its bone and reveal it to be a completely different animal. On all these songs I think the key for me is that the use of synths is not some attempt to evoke past musical cliches but instead a real effort to get heart out of a machine  so that the sound will serve a melodic idea.

Painted Ruins is a perfect antidote to the disease that is the repetitive four bar loop based pop that infects my household on a regular basis thanks to my childrens musical listening habits. It is a perfect blend of digital and analogue instrumentation that sounds completely modern. It is a confident record that allows its musical multilayered compositions to resonate long past the first listen, hooking you back in for a satisfying repeat experience. A real headphone delight that deserves to be shared.

Brent Giblin