Album Reviews

Animal Collective – Painting With


Baltimore’s Animal Collective have spent the best part of two decades attempting to give experimental pop a good name, with mixed results: after scoring a direct hit with 2009’s critical high water mark Merriweather Post Pavilion, the hazy experimentation of 2012’s follow up Centipede Hz alienated many of their new followers, and their trend of swaying between catchy weirdness and self-indulgent noodling has been a feature throughout their discography.

As a result, the news that 2016 would bring the first Animal Collective album in four years was met with as much apprehension as anticipation: for a band that on average released an album a year between 2000 and 2007, the gap between Centipede Hz and new release Painting With seemed alarmingly large. Coupled with elusive guitarist and founding member Josh “Deakin” Dibb once again leaving the group, whether they could be focused enough to deliver a batch of crowd pleasing Merriweather-style psychedelic earworms or not seemed like a genuine concern.

However, lead single and album opener ‘FloriDada’ put many such fears at ease: a Saturday morning cartoon worthy slice of bubblegum that, along with it’s appropriately psychedelic music video, seemed to firmly belong in “classic” Animal Collective territory. The track finds Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox and Dave “Avey Tare” Portner swapping call and response Beach Boys-esque vocal melodies over a joyfully bouncing rhythm that promises a goofily carefree album to follow.

On Painting With’s more straightforward moments, AnCo show they can easily produce the sort of infectiously layered pop nuggets that one presumes only previously existed in Smile-era Brian Wilson’s marijuana-haze imagination: ‘Hocus Pocus’ sounds like the little brother to Pet Sounds’ ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’, albeit one covered in stabs of synth that sound as if they were lifted from a 50s sci-fi flick.

Accessibility abounds on Painting With: the empathetic gender examination ‘Golden Gal’ is even more radio friendly than ‘FloriDada’, and the throbbing ‘Natural Selection’ and smooth RnB of family history tale ‘Bagels In Kiev’ are as welcoming to new fans as anything on Merriweather or 2007’s breakthrough Strawberry Jam. Adding the anthemic ‘On Delay’, which sounds like Win Butler fronting LCD Soundsystem, the album threatens to challenge the aforementioned as AnCo’s most mainstream release yet.

“Threaten” is the key word though, and Animal Collective can’t seem to completely tear themselves away from being weird simply for the sake of it. The promising intro to ‘The Burglar’ soon gives way to an increasingly annoying sea of electronic squeaks and squawks that drown out the song’s strong melody. Lennox and Portner’s vocal harmonies are very much an acquired taste, and their over reliance on them throughout the record begins to grate, especially on ‘Lying on the Grass’ and the nursery rhyme-style ‘Summing The Wretch’.

In an interview prior to the album’s release, the band cited the adrenaline rush of the classic batch of early Ramones records as a major influence on the album’s creation (as well as, somewhat appropriately given the title, Cubism, Dadaism and dinosaurs). Although the bruddah’s would no doubt approve of AnCo’s appreciation of gonzo 60s pop, sections of their 21st Century admirers’ attempt to deliver their most streamlined effort to date still fall into the sort of prog-rock self- satisfaction that the CBGB’s crowd set out to destroy.

Animal Collective’s new album is few squeaks short of being their easiest and most enjoyable listen to date. Fans who joined the Merriweather bandwagon may find themselves frustrated at the record’s occasional meanders, and may finally lose patience after this and Centipede Hz. By trimming the fat but still hanging on to their trademark zaniness, Animal Collective have a piece of work that both the band and their loyal followers can be proud of, without isolating themselves from new fans willing to take a small step outside the mainstream. Caolán Coleman