If you’ve been keeping up with Animal Collective and their creative envelop pushing sound since the beginning of Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Avey Tare (David Portner) debut Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanish, then you were like me and many other AnCo fans alike, not entirely sure what to expect from their next project as a whole. The experimental psychedelic pop collective from Baltimore have recently released their tenth studio album Painting With which is the follow-up to their 2012 release Centipede Hz. After the release of Centipede Hz many fans and critics alike started to worry about the direction that AnCo would head. Luckily, there is no need to worry since they’ve completely ditched the cluttered instrumentation from their prior release and have heavily focused on more of a proper structure for their individual tracks. With this notable emphasis of structure on the new LP, Painting With has to be one of Animal Collective’s most accessible releases to date. With that said, however, it also pans out to be one of their more underwhelming ones as well.
The album starts with a fabulously glossy track “FloriDada” which was the first single released for Painting With. There is a constant drum loop throughout the track that keeps the song in motion. Panda Bear sings on top of some synths that make the track feel chaotically clean as they keep jumping in and out of your face. It’s a nice throwback for Animal Collective fans that have been eagerly waiting for material like this since they dominated the experimental pop scene from 2003 with Here Comes The Indian to what many consider their magnum opus in 2009 with Merriweather Post Pavilion. However, it’s the track “Hocus Pocus” and some of the tracks that immediately follow which completely gets rid of those throw back feels and offers a new approach to an old formula of songwriting. The structure at which they have written their songs sound similar but have been stripped down to the basic chorus / bridge / verse / chorus / bridge / verse approach. I only say this is basic relative to an AnCo album.
When the band got together to write and record Painting With they all came into an agreement that they would not want to record their tracks with a bunch of reverb and ambient lead ups since they feel like it’s been done too much before. So instead we are left with nearly half of the album sounding bland for what we have come to expect from the influential artists. Songs like “On Delay” and “Spilling Guts” are lackluster – they don’t offer anything different from what we are hearing on the rest of the album. They are hard to sit through, not because they are necessarily bad, but when compared to the rest of the tracks on the album they feel strangely underdeveloped. Similarly “Summing the Wretch” and “Bagels In Kiev”, these tracks offer a more engaging listening experience that although is pleasant to partake in, it doesn’t really stand out as something substantially different.
Tracks like “The Burglars” and “Golden Gal” offer a great example of the kind of experimentation they were working with. Avey Tare and Panda Bear have challenged themselves in keeping up with one another when they sing in harmony on these tracks. The effort not only shows but pays off spectacularly as they execute the harmonious singing with ease. Geologist (Brian Ross Weitz) brings a bunch of fun and flourished instrumentals and samples on the entirety of the LP. An example of such can be seen on the previously mentioned track “Golden Gal” that samples some dialogue from the sitcom “Golden Girls” right before the subtle sizzle of the high hats that rain over a bubbly synth pattern come into play and makes the track come to life.
Painting With challenges casual listeners and fans alike. For those who aren’t familiar with the collective’s work and happen to stumble across this LP as their introduction to the group, they’ll be able to walk away happy with the final product. For those hardcore fans however, who have been up to date with every release from the members as a whole or any of their solo releases, you will be severely disappointed with the new release. Although it’s not a bad release by any means, we have come to expect more from the creative artists that we have come to love and be influenced by. This album offers a sense of relief that you can bask in for the meanwhile and lose yourself in. But once you are finished listening to it, that’s it, you are back to where you started and you feel unsatisfied with what could have been something truly unique.
-Review by Michael Eidelson