Album Review: Animal Collective—“Painting With”

By Harry Myles

On February 19th, 2016, the Baltimore-born experimental pop band Animal Collective released their tenth studio album, Painting With. A follow up to their 2012 release Centipede Hz, Painting With is a cosmic, expansive, and simply zany addition to the group’s adventurous, diverse discography. Featuring three of the four band members – Animal Collective in somewhat of a revolving door, with members taking breaks as they see fit: this time around, we get Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Avey Tare (David Portner), and Geologist (Brian Weitz); Deakin (Josh Dibb) is absent – the record provides a diverse blend of energies, tempos, beats, and lyricism. With hints of their Beach Boys-esque 2009 record Merriweather Post Pavilion and a splash of 2007’s wild Strawberry Jam, this latest release is a fusion of earlier albums that jumps from one extreme to the other.

The opening track “FloriDada” sets the tone for the next several songs, providing an animated and bubbling tune oozing with the energy of a hot summer in Florida. Featuring playful and often comical lyrics, Panda Bear, Avey Tare, and Geologist pop their way across the Sunshine State, springing past the “green mountain south” and beyond “the Clay of the Westerns.” With a bouncing beat and catchy chorus, many listeners will find the tune running through their mind days later (I did). The next two tracks, “Hocus Pocus” and “Vertical,” build on this infectious energy, blending manic rhythms with often indecipherable lyrics, all at a break-neck pace. With popping vocals and strange, otherworldly samples, the album begins to gain a wacky, overflowing momentum. At times, the assault of sound overwhelms the senses and disorients the listener, absorbing you into it’s child-like passions.

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Album Art for Painting With

After that, however, Painting With takes some surprising turns. The next four tracks alternate between the original energy of “Floridada” and a more refined, collected sound reminiscent of earlier records. “Lying In The Grass” combines a fast tempo with a subtle, calming collection of snaps and claps accented by the occasional trumpet. The pace then gets even faster on “The Burglars,” gaining speed until the lyrics are sung with a frantic frenzy that recalls parts of Strawberry Jam. “Natural Selection” follows, moving from an unpredictable melody to a pounding dance beat and a harmonious chorus chant. Like “Lying In The Grass,” “Natural Selection” blends a meditative state with nervous energy. Then, in another quick shift of pace, “Bagels In Kiev” – one of my favourite tunes of the album – provides a matured, calm, and simple beat that sets up a story centered around a child and their grandfather. By this point, the songs are notably short – lasting less than three minutes apiece – and change suddenly with little introduction or outro. Just as the listener is beginning to unravel the jumble of pieces, the next song begins; the quick changes keep your mind reeling.

By the eighth track, Paining With appears to be an indecisive blend of competing sounds, unsure of which direction to follow or where to land. “On Delay” has a wistful atmosphere – created by a multi-layered array of vocals, extraterrestrial drones, and soothing piano melody – but then the thumping beat begins once again, and the next two songs return to the energy of the first half. Of course, they too are quickly neutralized – this time by the penultimate track “Golden Gal” – before the record ends with “Recycling,” which recalls the bubbly but controlled whimsy of Merriweather Post Pavilion.

After finishing, you are left to catch your breath. The 42-minute miasma of rhythm and noise introduces and reintroduces a fusion of experimental pop that cannot seem to stay in one place. Panda Bear, Avey Tare, and Geologist zip from one extreme to the next (and everywhere in between), until they finally settle on a recognizable, cohesive sound, albeit for only one track. A thrilling collection of the type of zany fervor that only Animal Collective can produce, Painting With provides a wild, enjoyable ride for fans. Although the album may appear to be a disorganized jumble of summer hits, dance jams, and reflective melodies to the unaccustomed listener, what else could you expect from such an adventurous group? Animal Collective’s sound has no bounds; instead they surge unexpectedly, releasing a new spectrum of emotion and energy with every album they produce. For that reason, despite being ten albums in, I still cannot wait to see what they will do next.

 

Cover Photo via Pitchfork

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