Animal Collective: Painting With Review

todayMarch 24, 2016 16

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By Cheyenne Heaslet
Music Reviewer

Artist: Animal Collective
Album: Painting With
Label: Domino
Release Date: Feb. 19, 2016
Website: www.animalcollective.orgANIMAL-COLLECTIVE-PAINTING-WITH-PANDA

A few months back, when the surprise single “FloriDada” hit digital shelves everywhere, Animal Collective already had many fans sold on their next steps. Its galloping rhythm, abrasive electronic samples, and quick back and forth between vocalists Panda Bear and Avey Tare felt reminiscent of their breakthrough Strawberry Jam and its single “Peacebone”, but at the same time pushed a broader pop sound with more polish than any track from 2012’s Centipede Hz. Yes, “pop”, “broad” and “polish” might be words that Animal Collective purists would immediately turn their noses up at, but the catchy and weird single automatically caught the ears and didn’t let go. After digesting “FloriDada” for a couple of months we were finally presented with Animal Collective’s fifteenth album, Painting With. While it isn’t the Merriweather Post Pavilion or Strawberry Jam sound audiences have hoped them to return to, Painting With is a delightful release that could match almost any highlight in their extensive catalogue. Before the album even hit us, AnCo already confessed to switching up their approach to songwriting. Instead of their tried and tested method of performing the songs before recording, the band wrote the songs specifically with the studio in mind. The result is sort of an Animal Collective starter kit that hits all the right spots fans should want, while also making their most accessible record to date.

Animal Collective’s most regarded efforts have been the ones where they subvert expectations. Their last couple, Merriweather Post Pavilion and Centipede Hz, were mostly successful because they took the band’s ever evolving style and used it for something we never asked for, but turned out we very much needed. Typically crafted by spontaneity and intuition, then further written and perfected on tour, AnCo’s discography has proven to be varied and scattered, but also timeless, affording them the patience of fans while in transition. Where the last full length, Centipede Hz, was an emotional and schizophrenic romp, Painting With appears more calculated but somehow also a lot of fun. That element of fun seems to have produced some of the most addictive beats and satisfying moments AnCo have released. A fun track like “Golden Gal”, sporting a couple samples from the TV series “Golden Girls”, a memorable hook and a ridiculously catchy synth bass/drum loop may not be what fans were expecting from them, but it works very well within this album and to great success.

Along with being the most accessible, Painting With is also Animal Collective’s most streamlined LP as no one part feels self-indulgent or too out there for a casual listener to dismiss as fluff. Most songs clock out even before the four minute mark. “Bagels In Kiev”, a short but fun little memory of Soviet ran Ukraine and someone’s “grandpop” set to a minimalistic, shuffling beat, and featuring a sticky chorus, doesn’t even scratch three minutes. This could’ve been detrimental, as indulgence and pushing their sound is what most fans want from AnCo, but there are still moments of bliss. “Summing the Wretch” shows Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear and David Portner aka Avey Tare at the top of their echoing back and forth vocal blending game. Most songs on Painting With employ this almost signature vocal technique to pretty good effect, and despite what some may say it never really becomes distracting. It’s pretty well explained, intentionally or not, on their ode to echoes, “On Delay”, with Panda Bear ending with the proclamation “So turned on by the delay”.

The only complaint that I could give the sporadic vocals is the effects do mask some relevant lyrics if not paying attention. Behind the smiling facade of breakout track “FloriDada” is the story of our antagonistic attitudes towards somewhere such as Florida by outsiders combined with the principles of the Dadaist art movement of the twentieth century. Using the anti­capitalist attitude of Dadaism, Animal Collective compares a “Child of limousines” to “Old demented men” before “collagin’ with all the human race” who are all “Dyed in FloriDada”. Similarly, other messages could be missed in “Summing the Wretch”, which could be interpreted as a view on privacy with the song ending its paranoid back and forth with “Don’t get caught watching, don’t get caught lost.” However, when the vocal performance is focused, Animal Collective becomes relatable and lyrically on point. “Golden Gal”, a song of a woman influenced by her upbringing watching “Golden Girls”, is thoughtfully written with lines like “So complex and brave, a power and lure without showing some legs” and “I want to be the reminder that she’s stronger than the bulk on other days”.

Being an Animal Collective fan mostly means being open to the unexpected, and right now what was more unexpected than a relatively low-frills, but high energy pop record? Skeptics could swing Painting With’s reception as a safe, almost passive aggressive way to follow up the divisive Centipede Hz, but this seems more like an experiment for AnCo. Painting With doesn’t have the fluidity of Merriweather or the personality of Feels or Sung Tongs, but it does have an organic energy that translates well and never feels out of character. If there was any advice I could give an uninitiated Animal Collective bystander it would be this: get in now, it should only get weirder from here.

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