Album Review: Animal Collective, ‘Painting With’

By Andrew Howie

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Animal Collective have always been on their own separate frontier in the musical world. Their singular brand of psychedelia-meets-folk-meets-freak-pop is at times brash and captivating, sometimes exquisite and bleak, and occasionally hazy and dreamy. One thing it is not, however, is consistent and easily digestible. Another strange facet of this group is their presentation of new material: whereas most bands release a record and then tour, Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Deakin (Josh Dibb), and Geologist (Brian Weitz) do the opposite. New songs are almost always played live first, only then to be retired to an LP and removed from concert rotation. Their fractured, hyper-speed, Super Mario-esque vocal harmonies and unusual instrumentation and concepts leave Animal Collective in a class all their own, and their new album Painting With is no exception.

The very first thing about Painting With that I really noticed was the attention to detail in the songwriting. While Animal Collective is known for their eclectic, freewheeling style, it is rarely so focused and dynamic while moving towards a thrilling conclusion. Opening track “FloriDada” is actually catchy; it’s the first time an Animal Collective song has truly been stuck in my head. Squishy synths, machine-gun vocals, and an actual chorus lend a real concrete structure to the song and makes it a wonderful starting point to the sonic journey that is Painting With.

Continuing the odyssey of electric psych-folk, “Hocus Pocus” and “Vertical” establish an upbeat, joyous, singalong vibe ripe for festival crowds the world over. Second single “Lying in the Grass” is more traditional Animal Collective, with tight vocals over a mystifying substrate of gooey electronic keys and flutes. The band goes old school 8-bit with “The Burglars”, moves into watery techno on “Natural Selection”, and settles into early morning relaxation with “Bagels in Kiev” (one of my favorites on the album).

Moving toward the end of the record, “On Delay” and “Spilling Guts” serve up typical bleeps and bloops that are less enthralling but plenty satisfying, while “Summing the Wretch” becomes faintly menacing before “Golden Gal” kicks them back into 70s perma-grin singalong territory with a pleasant bounce underneath. Rounding out the album is the plodding “Recycling”, which may be the most swirling, disorienting track on the album at first, until it dissolves into Munchkin-esque forest music.

Music can sometimes be more than just audio. Animal Collective have long since established themselves as true innovators, in the spirit of Captain Beefheart and Mr. Bungle, but far less angry. Their eschewing of traditional song structure and subject material has created, for lack of a better term, a sonic painting, one that you can look at and listen to again and again, and pick up something new every time. Happy listening.

Rating 8 out of 10