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Grizzly Bear Discuss Painted Ruins

Ed droste is reaching over to grab Chris Taylor by the shoulder, imitating his Grizzly Bear bandmate’s motivational role behind their upcoming fifth album, Painted Ruins. “Come on! Snap out of it!” mimics Droste, as Taylor laughs along. This brotherly interaction is happening at Droste’s home in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, where it’s a sunny spring day. Droste, bearded and wearing a blue-and-white striped T-shirt, and Taylor, in a lighter blue tee and with his blond hair combed from the side, are huddled together in front of an iPad perched on a pile of books. Visible behind them even over Skype is a mirror reflecting on the living room, which has a black-and-white baby photo of Droste and a wire stand for his fern, peace lily, philodendron, and more. “I’m an anxious person, and plants calm me,” he says.

Originally all based in New York, the group has scattered, with singer/guitarist Droste, multi-instrumentalist/producer Taylor, and drummer Chris Bear all living in L.A., and co-lead singer and guitarist Daniel Rossen splitting his time between Santa Fe, New Mexico and upstate New York. All are married now except for Droste, who is recently divorced. Bear, the proud father of a 1-year-old, is the first dad among the group. “We’re four guys in our mid-30s, and the world is going into a really crazy-ass direction,” says Taylor, casually summing up the general context behind the new record.

Since coalescing around the current lineup after 2004’s apartment-recorded Horn of Plenty, Grizzly Bear have developed a distinctive style that blends baroque-pop’s intricacy, the Beach Boys’ vocal harmonies, and psych-folk’s finger-picking unease into something thrilling enough to famously get Beyoncé and Jay Z out for a show. Across 2007’s Yellow House, 2009’s Veckatimest, and 2012’s Shields, they refined an approach that was cerebral, but also deeply emotional, and never less than meticulous.

“Three Rings,” the first track released from the new record, retains their characteristic ornateness, but the six-minute song is also slow-building and somewhat elusive; proper single “Mourning Sound,” on the other hand, is gleaming and hard-charging, perhaps surprisingly so. Painted Ruins has plenty of both styles, from slinky electro-folk that name-checks a Honda TRX 250 four-wheeler, of all things, on opener “Wasted Acres,” to the horn-enshadowed resignation of closing opus “Sky Took Hold.” Taylor contributed more to the band’s collective songwriting process this time, including his first-ever Grizzly Bear lead vocal turn, on the melancholic “Systole.”

Reached separately by phone, Rossen says that his part on “Mourning Sound” was inspired by morning walks upstate, where he also uses that TRX 250 from “Wasted Acres” for hauling firewood with his dog. As for the foreboding march of “Four Cypresses”—which includes the album’s most evocative line, “It’s chaos, but it works”—Rossen says it started as a narrative from the perspective of a homeless person sleeping in the driveway of a place he was staying in L.A., but broadened to encompass his thoughts about the refugee experience and life during wartime. “I never really explained that to those guys,” he admits, referring to his bandmates.

Communication within Grizzly Bear may have its limits, but Droste and Taylor present an understanding that seems implicit. After more than a decade together, Taylor says, “There’s that rare kind of intraband wisdom—a more adult approach to problem-solving.”

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