Grizzly Bear Growing As A Band, Becoming More Accessible

I love Art Rock as much as the next music snob discerning music lover, but it’s got to be original and it’s got to be good, because let’s face it, bad Art Rock is even worse than plain old bad Rock. The really good Art Rock is the stuff that finds the right balance between the Art and the Rock. The inventors of Art Rock – The Beatles – showed us that you can be Arty at times, and you can be Rocky at times, and when things really go well, you can be both at once. (Arcky?)

But it’s a delicate balance. Too much Art and you’re avant-garde, too much Rock and you’re mainstream. The best Art Rock band on the planet today is Radiohead and they have mastered this delicate dance, generating many different textures and flavors in their sound over the past 25 years, treading the line between Art (the unconventional) and Rock (the conventional).

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Well with their recently released sixth album Painted Ruins, it looks like Grizzly Bear is coming closer to finding that balance too. It’s a band that I’ve always admired for its inventive songwriting and refined musical sensibilities, but to me they’ve always been too much Art and not enough Rock. And by Rock I don’t mean pounding power chords, but rather a certain accessibility that gives a listener something to grab onto without losing the impact of the creative statement.

There is plenty for listeners to grab onto on Painted Ruins. Grizzly Bear is clearly growing as a band. Producer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor had a bigger songwriting contribution than ever before, and so what was once singer Ed Droste’s backing band has become more of a collective effort and it shows. There is a wider musical and emotional palette and some inventive stuff that could appeal to a wider audience without veering too far towards the mainstream.

“Losing All Sense” is a textbook example of how you can successfully combine the conventional and the unconventional. Inventive melodies and harmonies layered on top of a creative chord structure are resolved in a really satisfying way that should be accessible to plenty of Rock listeners. And watch their live performance of “Mourning Sound” on Colbert. I found myself humming the rather complex melody after one viewing, which is the greatest thing any songwriter can hope for.

These guys are still a little too serious for my liking, but it is great to see them growing and developing their sound. It will be interesting to see how far they can take it.

Photo credit: By Oxfordwhites (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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