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Album Review: Animal Collective – “Painting With”

On Painting With, Animal Collective’s tenth studio album, the band seem wholly comfortable with themselves as individuals, as artists and most certainly who the are as a band. After the harshness of Centipede Hz, and solo records from members Avey Tare (Dave Portner) and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) that thematically examined some pretty dark territory, Animal Collective seem to resolutely be OK with having fun on this album, and filling it to the absolute brim with experimental sounds and whatever unique musical musical thoughts pop into their psychedelic heads. It’s a bit like Animal Collective is a moving company and they’re absolutely determined to cram each and every idea they have onto the truck that is Painting With.

In the press release for Painting With, the band stated that the record was by far the “most scripted” they’d ever done, and it at times it seems the band said “yes” to basically every idea. One can almost picture the three members who took part in the album (Deakin sat this one out) sitting around the studio, stoned and giggling as they add another (and another, and another) squiggly sample and blippty-bloop (these are highly technical terms) to song after song. Although the album at times feels a little mired under the weight of all these tricks and doodads, the same feeling of sunshine and joy mixing in your brain that Animal Collective has always provided is here. Lead single and album opener “FloriDada”, with its very prominent “Wipeout” sample, stands as a testament to that.

A good example of this lysergic grin the band seems to be working under on this album is “Vertical”, whose lyrics begin with the seemingly throw-away repeated phrase “My feet can’t cross the parking lot / The parking lot is way too hot”, but whose musical arrangement is warm and intoxicating. The actual song itself doesn’t begin to formulate into anything recognizable until about a minute and a half of psychedelic, sample-driven soupiness allows them to emerge from the ether. That theme – of allowing the songs to languidly emerge from a fog of sounds – is repeated throughout Painting With, and will in all likelihood make these songs fun to see live as the band segues from song to song and experiments with arrangements.

Despite the loose and murky feel that permeates the beginning and end of many of the tracks, the songs themselves couldn’t be more directly packed with ideas and sounds. Portner and Lennox have never before used their call-and-response vocals so prominently, and the duo wrote vocal parts for each other on this record, something they’d never tried previously. There are so many bells and whistles going on sound wise that at times it can be a bit much, and one wonders if the fact that this album being the band’s “most scripted” effort to date took a little air out of the record’s sails.

But the album still feels unmistakably like Animal Collective – that’s to say the music still makes me feel vaguely like I’m partying with the characters from Fantasia, or that at any moment Steamboat Willie might come skipping down the sidewalk with a hit of blotter for me. And although the album has received some less than stellar press for the above reasons, there is a lot to like here. The final two songs on the record, for instance, calm down slightly on the million-ideas-a-second pace and have a more contemplative vibe than the rest of the record. “Golden Gal” is a snappy number with a wonderfully heavy and expansive beat, and gets points for featuring Blanche Devereaux, my dear departed Grandma’s favorite all time TV character. Lennox’s “Recycling” echoes the wistful melancholy of Panda Bear Meets the Reaper, but is presented through Animal Collective’s Fantasia-like lens.

No longer scrappy, hungry dudes trying to make it as artists in NYC, the guys in Animal Collective are now, in a sense, living legends in the indie scene. As such, perhaps it’s wrong to expect another Sung Tongs, Feels, Strawberry Jam or Merriweather Post Pavilion from this band, as they’ve already irrevocably altered the landscape of psychedelic and indie music, and have done so many times over. With Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s solo efforts garnering more and more attention and respect; it’s probably wise to start expecting something different from AC going forward. And although that may be hard for some to accept, Painting With proves the next stage of AniCo’s development will at the very least be an entertaining one.

Final Thoughts

Overall Score 2.9