Through no fault of their own, the announcement of a new Animal Collective record–or any, for that matter– isn’t as much an event as it used to. We’re early on into a year that’s already seen Kanye West name and rename his latest album, have an unsavoury Twitter meltdown while promoting it, and then hold an extravagant, cross-promotional fashion show launch/listening party at Madison Square Garden; surprise albums from Atlanta rappers Young Thug and Future came equipped with built-in online beef, which helped stir up interest in both projects.
On a surface level, it might be unfair to compare Animal Collective’s highly electrified outsider pop to more mainstream players. But, if the last 15 years have taught us anything, it’s that the group have managed to tap into our, well, collective spirit.
While at-first the twisted-up electro-acoustic jam band feel of early albums like Sung Tongs seemed a weird fit for the masses, by the time 2009’s blissfully beat-heavy Merriweather Post Pavilion was released they were kings in-and-outside of the indiesphere. Sure, they’re odd, but the kind of odd that’s still likely to draw thousands at a festival.
Having taken a bit of a hit on the slightly underwhelming Centipede Hz, the act’s Panda Bear and Avey Tare temporarily focused on their respective solo work, but have now come back together with Geologist (though not on again/off again fourth member Deakin) to deliver Painting With.
Fitting for these gimmick-heavy times, they announced the record by streaming it in a Baltimore airport. It was a weird gambit, considering the band’s bubble-beat freakouts might not make for the most calming background music when trying to make last call for a flight to Paris, but the move helped push album awareness to the media.
Rather than offer up a simple SoundCloud stream, Animal Collective next ramped up their promo push by previewing “Lying in the Grass” through their very own app, also titled “Painting With.” The interactive app allows users to connect with friends to create squiggly art pieces, while listening to the equally squiggly sounds of Animal Collective.
But while the at-present trio tried something different to help promote Painting With, the record sounds pretty well like you’d imagine an Animal Collective record would. Depending on your take of the veteran band’s career thus far, this could be a good or a bad thing. If you’re not a fan of the aggressively optimistic bap of the band, your mind’s not going to change any with this one.
But do you love the highly-squelched insanity of Strawberry Jam-period pieces like “Peacebone”? Well, opener “FloriDada” should hit the spot, with its blur of piped-up carousel melodies, sunny vibes, and absurdly placed “Wipe Out” samples. Also a reliable pleaser is “Lying in the Grass,” another post-club banger along the lines of Merriweather Post Pavilion highlight “My Girls.”
More often than not, the band are pulling familiar tricks. While the twitchy new wave approach of “Burglars” likens it to Shout-period Devo, the song quickly escalates into a busy, prototypical explosion. Tracks like “Natural Selection” and “On Delay” dial up the bpm’s too, as Panda Bear and Avey Tare roll out a stream of signature, nervously entwined vocal melodies. Chunks of the set whizz by in a non-descript, yet aesthetically on-point blur.
As such, Animal Collective at its best on Painting With when they give the arrangements some room to breathe. Following some of the speedier passages on the record, the synth-spiked “Spilling Guts” sounds positively massive as digital conga drums burst beneath a Simon & Garfunkel-leaning, syllable-for-syllable vocal hook. “Golden Gal” kicks off with a campy and catty sample from ’80s sitcom Golden Girls, but finds Animal Collective delivering the record’s biggest grooves amidst joyful barbershop melodies and lyrics on the complications of sex and gender.
All in all, the palettes of Painting With will be familiar for fans of the last few Animal Collective records. But, like a lesser-appreciated piece of a master artist’s oeuvre, it might only be a few strokes off from being one of the classics.
– review by Gregory Adams