Release Date: Feb 19, 2016
Record label: Domino
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Painting With is the sort of album that you can imagine Brian Wilson would really love. And considering that the presence of the bandleader of the Beach Boys can be felt all throughout the tenth full-length record from Animal Collective, which was even recorded at EastWest Studios where the famed California group recorded Pet Sounds, you get the sense this exactly what these Maryland boys hoped to achieve.
In 2009, Animal Collective was one of the hottest, hippest bands in the country. After receiving rave reviews for the excellent Merriweather Post Pavilion, it seemed Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), David Portner (Avey Tare) and Brian Weitz (Geologist) could do no wrong. A great underground band finally getting its big break with a perfect blend of weirdo pop art.
Dada, dinosaurs and Ukranian baked foodstuffs; the acrylic-covered palette of Animal Collective’s ‘Painting With’ is a multi-hued splurge of technicolour paints morphing and mixing together without containment. “I wanna discover the key and open the everywhere place,” sing a spliced together Panda Bear and Avey Tare amid the cut-and-stick lyrical garbles of ‘FloriDada,’. With every sound shoved forward in the mix, oodles of white space floats inbetween the sound-splats.
Wielding the lineup of Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), and Geologist (Brian Weitz) -- the same as on their most popular LP to date, 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion -- beloved indie experimenters Animal Collective show no signs of dulling with age on their tenth long-player, Painting With. The album does, however, mark a change in approach. Bursting with creatively wacky pop tunes using a vibrant, at times '50s sci-fi-evoking electronics palette, Animal Collective could have more accurately called this their Devo album instead of "our Ramones record" as Geologist did in a pre-release Rolling Stone interview.
Part of getting to know Animal Collective in the mid-’00s was trying to figure out just how much we were in on their act. The psych-pop experimenters’ recent interviews suggest how intentional this experience may have been: Formed in Baltimore but reared in the New York avant-garde, the four-piece in early live shows would thin out already-sparse tour crowds, prompt at least one out-of-town venue owner to close ahead of schedule, and surreptitiously stage the occasional performance-art stunt. Eventually, though, that changed.
Animal Collective's Painting With contains a catty sample from The Golden Girls: “No, Blanche, she's upset because they keep changing the taste of coke. ” Ripped at random from a YouTube compilation of Bea Arthur one-liners, the snippet might have registered as a bitter missive against fans who want the band to keep doing the same thing. But each new phase of Animal Collective's artistic progression—from freak-folk acoustic meanderings to harsh noise and drone, from gurgling electronica to blissed-out psychedelia—has been generally so well received, by critics and fans alike, that it's more likely a self-referential joke at their own expense.
If there’s a common thread that links Animal Collective’s songwriting it’s their instinctive use of repetition – from the mantra-like becalming kind, to the sort that has a hysterical effect on the listener. It’s present in the scruffy jazz leanings of Alvin Row from debut Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’re Vanished; the trippy, stuck-record wall of sound of The Purple Bottle on 2005’s masterpiece Feels and the closest thing they’ve had to a hit, the ecstatic My Girls from Merriweather Post Pavilion. It’s ironic then, that with each album they have seemingly set out to do anything but repeat themselves in terms of style – leading to equal parts joy and frustration for their fanbase.
On the face of it, at least, it seems faintly ridiculous to ever use the word ‘stale’ in relation to Animal Collective, given how pointedly they’ve always looked forward, and seldom back, over the course of their career. After 2013’s Centipede Hz, though – which failed to inspire quite like Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion had – there was perhaps a feeling that time out to recharge wouldn’t be a bad thing. The making of this latest LP, Painting With, sounds as if it was considerably less awkward than its predecessor.
There has never been anything predictable or usual about the things that Animal Collective create, and Painting With is no exception. From cover to lyrics to the colours the sounds daub across your cortex, this is an album designed as a piece of art, not a collection of tracks – like paint pushed around a palette, each stroke heavy with oils and influence. While the first half of the album is full of frenetic tracks like “FloriDada” and “The Burglars” that push forward there are plenty that shift into what feels like an old friend on a new day.
Imagine a dune buggy. No, seriously. Imagine a dune buggy traversing the world. Picture it speeding over massive intercontinental bridges and splashing upon tropical island shores. Watch it cruise through technicolor city streets at night and do doughnuts in suburban cul-de-sacs at three o’clock ….
What happened to Animal Collective? In 2009 they couldn’t have been a bigger deal, the dazzling neon joy of Merriweather Post Pavilion sweeping them to the forefront of the indieverse, the crest of a wave that had built through the brilliant Feels, fine Strawberry Jam and Panda Bear’s immense solo album Person Pitch. But then: hmm. Densely electronic follow up Centipede Hz was a more difficult album than its predecessors for sure, but it didn’t have the air of the pointedly awkward ‘look at us we are true artistes’ statement album, it just kind of felt like the next project, the band more influenced by the temporary return of fourth member Deakin than any awareness of their increased stature (likewise their ‘visual album’ ODDSAC, which might have seemed more like a statement if it had been released in a format that got any attention at all).
Despite its futuristic sheen, Animal Collective's music has always evoked a primitive kind of purity. Early on they wore masks—a gesture that connected them not only to the lucid dreams of playtime but to traditions of shamanism and present-day Mardi Gras, where people hide their faces not to disguise their natures but reveal them. Their songs morphed and rambled and writhed with the liveness of kimchi or kombucha, less finished product than something that fermented and evolved as you listened.
Avant-pop institution Animal Collective have specialized in ecstatic noise explorations for more than a decade. But their 10th album skips the signature escape-pod reverb washes, speeding up the tempos and shortening the song lengths to come up with the zippiest music they've ever made. Animal Collective's core trio recorded Painting With at an L.A.
Animal Collective is among the definitive bands of its generation. After rubbing shoulders with the likes of Black Dice and Gang Gang Dance in the early '00s NYC scene, the psychedelic quartet outgrew their beginnings. First came the freak-folk Beach Boys reimaginings of Sung Tongs, and then a string of bona fide underground hits: "Fireworks," off of Strawberry Jam, and Merriweather Post Pavilion's epochal "My Girls." Having moved 200,000 units in their native US alone, the band are faced with the question of how to follow such rampant success.
Animal Collective were simply unstoppable for the entirety of the past decade. That they managed to bring about a semblance of psychedelic overtones into the mainstream consciousness is something of a tiny miracle, let alone that it was achieved without never really compromising their wild creative streak. It’s safe to assume that Merriweather Post Pavilion will forever be deemed as their “pop record”, and in a way the left field success of Merriweather has somehow weathered the test of time even when it has steadfastly informed all of their records ever since.
Along time ago, you and I were children. When I was a child, I found a music that seemed to speak to me directly, and as a child does, I allowed my ego to luxuriate in the fantasy that I was this music’s ideal listener; or rather, that we were, because most of my closest friends held on to this music as tightly as I did (it was ours, even if I was the one who loved the music first, even though I was the one who showed it to them originally). This music came to soundtrack crucial moments in our lives.
Reportedly inspired by the Ramones, early Beatles recordings, Cubism, Dadaism, and (most bizarre of all) dinosaurs, Painting With finds Maryland-born, New York City-bred experimental pop troupe Animal Collective at their most minimalist, the oversaturated and otherworldly vocals Avey Tare (Dave Portner) and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) have become known for are completely stripped away here in favour of clearer and more concise melodies that weave in and out of one another to create an intoxicating effect. In the listening moment, Painting With is arguably the most melodic of Animal Collective's many records, and yet, it's also one of the least memorable — by the album's end, it's hard to recall much about the compositions here, even after a number of run-throughs. There's an awkwardness that, for perhaps the first time, doesn't feel wilful: Beats galumph when they should gallop, synthesizers squelch when they should soar, and even though John Cale and Colin Stetson assist in parts, they're swallowed up by Painting With's dizzying, Pollock-esque din.
Animal Collective are nothing if not the most frustrating of bands. In 2009, they delivered the scintillating Merriweather Post Pavillion and then managed to follow it up with the career nadir that Centipede HZ was to many – a confused, bullish effort that lacked the grace and flair of its predecessor. This time round, in typically defiant form they have declined to return to Merriweather’s subtle charms and opted to unleash a full palette with ferocious abandon.
Before now, Animal Collective was a band married to their routine. Their habitual practice of auditioning and subsequently tweaking new material live in front of adoring audiences gave them the freedom to build and refine their music from nothing, as well as the privilege of having a direct line of communication to an engaged fanbase during the compositional stages of making their records. It partially explains how a band with such a distinct and enduring legacy has managed to maintain it through their gradual, nearly 20-year evolution of making wildly unique and deeply beloved albums.
Psychedelic outliers like Animal Collective tend to set themselves up in opposition to pop music. With their obscurantist aliases (hello, Geologist), their expanding and contracting line-up (currently a trio), and their intrepid fusing of rustic campfire chant with layered, whimsical sonics, AnCo have, over a decade, carved out a busy hinterland all their own. Immediately recognisable, thanks to the Doppler-effect vocal interplay of Avey Tare (Dave Portner) and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), AnCo songs bear all the hallmarks of head music (wiggy sounds, unconventional structures) allied to the beats and euphoria more commonly found in electronic body music.
There are two opposing schools of thought regarding Animal Collective. One holds that the Baltimore quartet are adventurous sonic pioneers, whose restlessly exploratory oeuvre has succeeded in carving out an entirely new, 21st-century take on pastoral psychedelia, deserving of solemn appreciation and the most purple of praise: “[They mean] to create a dream land where music can sound equally gorgeous and transcendent if the anemone doesn’t sting you. Thus, the manatee stings sharply anyone who expects his danse to sound accessible or in any way like reality,” as one reviewer said of their 2010 album Danse Manatee.
Animal Collective don’t need to prove anything. They have a very strong case for being the best band of the 2000s. If you’re a fan, you likely acknowledge that Sung Tongs (2004), Feels (2005), Strawberry Jam (2007), and Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009) are all perfect or almost-perfect albums, each one with a distinctive sound indicating that no matter what skin Animal Collective takes on, they can make something incredible out of it and still sound unlike any other band out there.
Animal Collective's career is a strange one. There was a time in the very recent past that a new album would have sent a section of the Internet—and I dare say it's a section that would have crossed over heavily with Under the Radar's readership—into a froth of excitement. The strange thing about the reaction to Painting With, the band's 10th studio album, is not that people are disappointed but that so few seemed to care.
BLACKLASH is a strange beast. It can snowball in entirely unmerited fashion, or, in Animal Collective’s case, partially so. You could call it an artistic hangover after a career-best effort, a feverish attempt to top themselves, or even a product of too many minds at the dials. But back in 2012, Centipede Hz interrupted one of the greatest creative runs by an active band.
America’s Sunshine State is celebrated as a “mystical place” on the toytown stomp of single ‘FloriDada’, and potential hit ‘Golden Gal’ bounces along prettily in a toast to gender equality (“You’re so strong/You should hold your head above them”). Of course it wouldn’t be Animal Collective without Avey and Panda Bear’s overlapping vocals valuing sound over meaning, or the acres of electronic noise everywhere. ‘Hocus Pocus’ disorientates with drone effects courtesy of ex-Velvet Underground guitarist John Cale, before surging into a sticky, psychedelic rush.
For Animal Collective’s 10th album, Dave Portner (aka Avey Tare), Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) and Brian Weitz (aka Geologist) spent 12-hour days in L.A.’s iconic EastWest Studios, decking out their space with lit candles and projected images of dinosaurs on the walls. The trio wanted the space to feel prehistoric – a vibe that’s in exact contrast to Painting With’s 42 minutes of jumbled samples, modular synths and hyperactive vocals. Portner and Lennox share vocal duties on every song, their voices coming together as one as they alternate not verses, but words and sometimes even syllables.
Animal Collective’s music has always boasted a certain amount of impenetrability. Even the albums that lean more heavily on folk music tropes come with a set of barriers that keep the listener at an arm’s length. That’s not to say that the band’s music can’t be moving—Merriweather Post Pavillion exudes great joy through its looping, soaring electronics—but Animal Collective’s tendency to muddy its own hooks and melodies can sometimes work against it, especially on the group’s last release, the bloated Centipede Hz.
Animal Collective — Painting With (Domino)There is, or used to be, a theory that Animal Collective were slowly working their way, album by album, through the human lifespan. Like most theories that definite about something so subjective, there are some strong points in its favour (Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished explicitly nods toward childhood in its liner notes and does an excellent job conveying the wonder and terror of those years, while Feels is simply one of the best albums about the experience of adolescence in a long time), but you can’t take it too seriously without doing some violence either to the theory or the music. It certainly works better if you don’t commit to fitting everything the band has done under that scheme, but even in a looser interpretation, the first thought when listening to the new Painting With is that Animal Collective have gotten to the recapturing lost youth stage of the process.
Easily their most energetic project, Animal Collective's intently trying to get you where you're going on the bouncy Painting With. So much so, in fact, that they premiered the album as a loop at Baltimore's major airport. On "FloriDada," the band sings in coastal pastels, swirling synths wrapping the lyrics. The Talking Heads-like "Bagels in Kiev" sprawls, vocals competing and entangled, but then the spotty, EDM-ish "Natural Selection" drags down everything around it.