The latest record from Brooklyn-based rock band Grizzly Bear is a floating slow-burner; threatening to become compelling, but almost always falling short. The base sound of Painted Ruins is lush and colourful, with hovering soundscapes and dainty melodies rising and falling in unison. The material is there, and the music is absolutely crying out to be heard, so it’s a great shame that the majority of it feels flat.
All energy has been drained from the recordings, and as a result, everything sounds as though it’s on the same level. Dynamics are a scarce entity, and choruses don’t make the impact that they should. The drums often feel flimsy, which is an enormous disservice to Christopher Bear’s playing. Half way through “Four Cypresses”, as the music removes its beige-filter and unearths a wonderful krautrock groove, we catch a glimpse of the real drive behind the music… lo and behold, Grizzly Bear sound like a real band. There is some life to be found when the percussion isn’t being smothered, and the best songs always benefit from breathing space.
Grizzly Bear capture moments that deserve to sound better than they do on Painted Ruins. It’s not remotely a bad record — the music is too good — but it ends up feeling monotonous due to some questionable post-recording decisions. The music meanders more than it captivates. For fans of Grizzly Bear, there will probably be a lot to hold on to, but it’s unlikely that Painted Ruins will be the album that seduces potential newcomers.
6 out of 10
In many respects Painted Ruins deserves more love, but when push comes to shove it’s an album served tepid. Grizzly Bear went for progrock odyssey and came up with a theme park ride. Enjoyable yes, resplendent with expressive riches no. It has a lovely tone, but something holds it back from being more than that.
It seems a production decision was made to tighten the sound and keep the dynamics narrow, which makes for a pleasant, leisurely tone, but not one that’s terribly impactful. It’s a shame, because the music deserves better. “Losing All Sense” has a strong, elegant groove. The guitar on “Cut-Out” is really very pretty. The crescendo of “Three Rings” should affect me more than it does… all these things should. That they don’t is a massive black mark on the experience.
Where’s the vividness of Jefferson Airplane, or Buffalo Springfield? That’s what they seem to want, but you can’t mesh the uninhibited colour of psychedelia with squashed, tepid production. It doesn’t work. The album can’t get beyond being a pretty, shimmering thing. Where dreamy stops and wispy begins is hard to tell, with things fading especially badly over the last few tracks. Sadly, for all its merits, Painted Ruins plays out like a new age near miss.
6 out of 10
Grizzly Bear’s latest release feels constrained and muted. Listening carefully, you can hear where big swells of sound and quiet moments of suspense once were. Midway through “Cut-Out”, you can tell that a soft drum beat with a twinkling guitar paces back and forth before a thunderous, stabbing guitar breaks the silence, but on record, everything remains at the same level, the energy has gone, the impact softened. This example is not a lone occurrence across the tracklist and it really does turn seemingly interesting music into a far less interesting product.
The opening tracks come with a lot of promise, with opener “Wasted Acres” oozing silky smooth instrumentals and hushed voices. “Four Cypresses” has curious guitar progressions and satisfying drum work, and “Aquarian”, that comes at the midpoint of the album, is likely the most captivating track on the album, again makes use of intriguing, satisfyingly different instrumentals. There are moments of glory all over the release but they don’t hang around for long. As time wears on, it often feels to me as though there’s more to forget than there is to remember.
Painted Ruins really has had very little lasting impact on me this week and I’ve given it more of a chance than other albums. It’s surprising to see just how big a change the post-production work has had here, as a potentially colourful, dynamic, engrossing listen is instead a beige, washed out, forgettable background moment that I’ll be unlikely to remember nor return to.
6 out of 10