During the five years between Shields and Painted Ruins, the lives of Grizzly Bear's members changed, thanks to marriage, children, and divorce. So did the way many listeners consume music, thanks to the advent of streaming music services and other advances. So if the band's meditative fifth album feels a little out of time, it's in a good way; Painted Ruins sounds timeless rather than tied to any particular moment. Even its structure suggests an old-school album, beginning with the somber prologue "Wasted Acres," which offers a welcome return to the band's postmodern chamber pop even as it mentions a Honda TRX 250 all-terrain-vehicle, and closes with the sweeping, brass-driven melancholy of "Sky Took Hold." In between, the band revisits their music from new perspectives, making slight tweaks but remaining unmistakably Grizzly Bear. "Aquarian" and "Cut-out" borrow some of Shields' insularity as they ponder life's unanswerable questions, while the gorgeous harmonies and harpsichord on "Neighbors" hark back to Yellow House. Elsewhere, the band expands on Veckatimest's poignant pop with "Losing All Sense," which is cut from the same cloth as "Two Weeks," and "Mourning Sound," where the upfront rhythm section gives a deceptive bounce to lyrics like "This isn't a place where I can even try." Throughout Painted Ruins, the beautiful arrangements reflect -- and invite -- contemplation as they carry the songs' ambiguous themes and lyrics, which balance cryptic introspection with flashes of clarity. Grizzly Bear channels the chaos and turbulence of the 2010s more subtly than some of their contemporaries, imbuing it with political and personal depth on songs like "Four Cypresses," which creates a tension between its fluid strings and martial beats that's all the more intriguing because it isn't obvious. And when Ed Droste tells a lover who's on the way out "Don't you be so easy" on "Three Rings," it might as well be the album's manifesto. Occasionally, Painted Ruins' drifting meditations border on meandering, but its open-ended beauty is well worth the close listening it takes for the album to fully reveal itself.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares