That Painted Ruins would fall at least slightly short of the unforgettable pantheon tension of Veckatimest and Shields, you kinda figured. That it would also be highly postmodern (a ridiculously broad term, obviously, but in a sense encapsulating of “pastiche” meaning a blank pasting together of past influences), you kinda figured. That it would offer a single “Mourning Song” which landed somewhere between Imagine Dragons and Arcade Fire and could soundtrack a cloudy day at a bar in a mall? Ok, you figured that too, you just didn’t want to fu**ing admit it.
Actually, just today I’ve learned that Shields earned something approximating this seemingly distant concept of “commercial success.” Now, I’m not SURPRISED that this indeed happened, after all I did hear “Yet Again” in this Whole Foods where I worked constantly in about winter of 2013. Still, I can’t help but be a little cross-faced and teary-eyed. My Grizzly Bear! Indeed, on Painted Ruins, Daniel Rossen sings like somebody who’s comfortable and who’s sort of playing not to lose rather than to win, and the lush instrumentation of the multiple pianos on “Wasted Acres” and the intriguing Amnesiac-type drum machine on “Three Rings” aren’t quite enough to save this sinking ship, which granted, given that this is their fifth album, is really more like a sinking canoe at this point.
Now don’t get me wrong: there are things that work on Painted Ruins. And that would be, in short, opener “Wasted Acres.” It begins in hazy, lazy and synthy form, before settling into a sturdy but piano-driven groove under the lines “Are you even listening / DRX 250?” (DRX 250 per my minimal research seems to be some sort of bike) — the reference to that machine having an oddly human quality, as in being the exact opposite of a sort of obstinate clinging to the ideal of humanity’s endless virtue and appeal. “Mourning Song,” like I said, plays very much like an albeit effectively melancholic radio single in terms of median 2010’s ploys, but “Losing All Sense” plays as refreshingly more percussive, incorporating the usual ripe drum beats and sound we’re used to from songs like “Two Weeks” with… is that some Skrillex-type snare-chopping? Either that or I’m hallucinating. “Losing All Sense” noodles out refreshingly into that psychedelia we used to get in full force with this band, in cases wherein the songwriting inspiration were truly there.
On “Aquarian,” the mix, as on all the other songs up to this point, is extremely full and opaque — shrill, full of overloud, oppressive bass, once again, as I alluded to before — as if to cover up a certain songwriting moribundity here. Rossen sings in that same torpid whine as ever and… well, I never thought I’d be comparing Grizzly Bear to Arcade Fire in terms of style as well as commonness of filler ploys, but there is definitely something which can be called monochromatic aspect of disposition, and Grizzly Bear unfortunately seem to feeble in combatting its plague on Painted Ruins.