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‘Painted Ruins’ review: Grizzly Bear loosens up

Grizzly Bear's

Grizzly Bear's "Painted Ruins" is on RCA. Credit: RCA


“Painted Ruins”

BOTTOM LINE Returning to a different indie-rock world with a harder-hitting sound.

Grizzly Bear’s breakthrough a decade ago established the indie rockers as the poster boys of what was possible in hipster Williamsburg as well as what the next-generation Radiohead could sound like.

After opening for Radiohead, the quartet landed two Top 10 albums in a row, as well as a major-label deal. But after the tour for 2012’s “Shields” album, Grizzly Bear took some time off, only reappearing now with their new album “Painting Ruins” (RCA).

And it’s clear their sound has changed. “Mourning Sound” puts Christopher Bear’s drums and Chris Taylor’s bass groove up front, creating an ’80s-influenced dance-rocker with unusual synth flourishes to maintain some edge, as Ed Droste and Dan Rossen trade vocals. As upbeat as the song sounds, Rossen keeps singing, “I woke to the sound of dogs, to the sound of distant shots and passing trucks,” which actually could be mournful.

“Losing All Sense” is also unusually straightforward for them, a mix of guitar rock and keyboards that sounds like it could have come from side two of Billy Joel’s “Glass Houses.”

However, Grizzly Bear hasn’t abandoned all of its hallmarks. There’s a bit of swooning Radiohead-like vocals in “Glass Hillside,” mixed with a bit of Steely Dan-styled prog rock. And “Three Rings” conjures a bit of the dreamy magic that made “Veckatimest” so arresting, though even here the rhythms remain at the forefront.

Throughout “Painted Ruins,” Grizzly Bear sounds like it has loosened up. Maybe making Los Angeles their home base has affected them, but things here seem far less precise and uptight, especially when compared to “Shields.”

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Even on something as lofty as the sweeping “Four Cypresses,” with its epic scope built through layers of sound held together with a near-constant snare drum, the joy feels palpable. “It’s chaos,” they sing through an increasingly cluttered soundscape, “but it works.”

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