Grizzly Bear | Painted Ruins (RCA) | Rated 9

Grizzly Bear – Chris Bear, Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen and Chris Taylor – spent the better part of two years writing and recording the eleven new compositions on their fifth album, Painted Ruins.

As with their last three LPs, the album is produced by Taylor, with sessions taking place primarily in upstate New York and Los Angeles. Fans of the bands 2012 record ‘Shields’ will find much to enjoy here.

By turns, tracks roar and whisper. They are atmospheric and intoxicating. Tracks are remarkably composed and played by musicians who are close to virtuosos. Chris Bear’s drumming in particular is sharp, precise and consistently excellent, providing the foundation for vocal harmonies and a plethora of instruments. The best example of this, and the highlight of the album is “Cut-Out”, a track which toys with the listener and at the halfway point becomes punchy, aggressive and satisfying. “Losing All Sense” wouldn’t feel out of place on The White Album.

The album includes one of the most beautiful tracks of the year, the sad, mournful “Systole”. Daniel Rossen’s voice sweet and floating above instrumentation which wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Scott Walker record.

Some of the tracks are unknowable, and perhaps the more beautiful for it. Album opener, “Wasted Acres” includes the chorus, “Were you even listening?, Were you riding with me?, Were you even listening, TRX 250”.  A search for “TRX 250” only highlights a Honda quad bike. Why? Like all good art, it allows you to form your own opinion.

Track Pick: Cut-Out

Floating Points | Reflections – Mojave Desert (Pluto) | Rated 8

A high concept album,  Englishman Sam Shepherd’s second full length record sets itself deep in the arid Mojave Desert. Full band in tow, the recording for the album actually took place in the vast desert, microphones placed to capture the natural sounds of one of the most inhospitable places on the planet.

The driving guitars on “Kelso Dunes” show the dynamism possible with Floating Points performing with a full band. The long notes on guitars on “Silurian Blue” are gorgeous. “Kites” is one of the real marvels of the album. The video shows Shepherd in the desert walking through a valley with a super directional microphone, swinging it back and forth as a synthesiser loop gets faster to showcase the natural reverb and shifting phase of sound waves.

If there is one issue with the album, it is that it must be listened to in full to understand its vision. But, for 28 minutes of your time, you’re in that desert. The sun is beating down. And the world is almost alien.

Track Pick: “Kelso Dunes”

Live Review |Methyl Ethel| Shacklewell Arms, London | Rated 8

At home, Australian band ‘Methyl Ethel’ have been making waves, selling out every headline show in the country since 2016, as was the case with this back-room pub gig.  Initial sound problems (managed by a soundman based in the bar) gave way to a set which demonstrated just why Methyl Ethel’s two records have been well-received.

“Rogues”, from their first record, a track which could easily fit onto the Donnie Darko soundtrack, saw the band hit their stride. “Idée Fixe” strengthened the view that the band are worth seeing live with the slow-build track a particular highlight.  By the time the Perth band played “Drink Wine”, a regular recent feature on the BBC 6 Music playlist, to close the set, the small crowd wanted more. For newbies, this wasn’t a bad gig to find yourself at and be won over.