Painted Ruins is Grizzly Bear’s first album in five years. Of course, it is impossible to know how much time a band has to play with as an act at the top level, but it is hard not to think that taking a five year break is a risk. Their last album, 2012’s Shields, was in many ways their most dense and heavily laboured so far, a fact supported by many of the interviews that accompanied its release. It was a strained group experience, with each band member recording their parts separately, in a piecemeal, isolated fashion, and bassist and producer Chris Taylor tasked primarily with lacing the pieces together into a whole.

With the new album, the band have sought to resolve these self-imposed fractures. Whilst Shields was not a failure, Painted Ruins by comparison is an altogether tighter, more inextricable album, a return to the glorious union of four musicians that had made Grizzly Bear one of the most unignorable bands of the 2000s. It was recorded together, collectively, as a band, the four members converging into one studio at the same time. It goes without saying for most, but with the extra-curricular activities of all four gentlemen involved, it might just have felt like a supergroup was convening.

What results is a harmonious, richly textured tapestry of songwriting and performance, their most mature record to date. For those already on the Grizzly Bear journey, it is probably the rewarding, cathartic experience that the wait demanded. Each of the eleven tracks is a detailed, layered composition, slavishly devoted to burying its melodic lead and disguising the simple tune at its heart.

In the past, their albums have been held aloft by tracks with pop possibilities – whether ‘Two Weeks’ or ‘Knife’, or even ‘Yet Again’ – but there is no equivalent on Painted Ruins. The closest we get is ‘Mourning Sound’, with its surges of vocal harmonies and sprightly, rabbit-hopping drum beat. It is a song that proves that the collective mindset of Grizzly Bear is closer than ever; a dovetailed, intricately arranged track that makes you question the long absence. Similarly, ‘Losing All Sense’ sees them in their perkiest form in a long time, an imagination of what this band might have been if they’d have taken a very different route.

But these are the exceptions. For most of its 48 minute running time, this is a patient record that demands the attention and dedication of its listener – they may love The Beach Boys, but they don’t sound like them. They have long-since broken free of the ‘freak-folk’ shackles that burdened them in their early days, and whilst that baroque influence is still central to Painted Ruins, they have evolved. This is not an album devoted to emulating Van Dyke Parks or Linda Perhacs, but one that has dug deeper into their own terrain, confident with their place in the world. Tracks like ‘Four Cypresses’ and ‘Aquarian’ move freely, ambling and stretching in surprising directions, never stopping to concern themselves with accessibility. For those listeners devoted enough, it is probably catnip.

Every wave of bands eventually has to carve their own path into middle age, and the 2000s art rock block are still in the process. In a year where Dirty Projectors, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem and Feist have all dealt with this issue very differently, Grizzly Bear’s burrowing pursuit of the same style that brought them success, albeit in a more advanced state now than before, is a surprisingly refreshing decision. They know they can get away with it, in an age when Radiohead are still one of the world’s biggest bands despite their increasingly esoteric output.

It has the propensity to get self-indulgent, but it is hard to even describe this as a problem. The likelihood of major mainstream breakthrough becomes more and more vanishingly unlikely with every year that ticks by, so with the luxury of an established audience, why would a band like Grizzly Bear not indulge? They enjoy playing, they enjoy pushing each other and they enjoy challenging us. It’s what makes them join together again, even if it takes five years. They are not driven by necessity but by a love for what they do. Painted Ruins is the result, a natural, unhindered expression, an album made for the audience they already have.