Album Review: “Painting With” by Animal Collective

Album Review: “Painting With” by Animal Collective

“No, Blanche, she’s upset because they keep changing the taste of coke.” Of all the samples that were stuffed into Animal Collective’s “Painting With” — and the record overflows with them — this one, ripped from an episode of the ‘80s sitcom “The Golden Girls” and used on the aptly-titled track “Golden Gal,” stands out. It sums up the frustration, the heartbreak and the snobbery that is the world’s collective reaction to the Collective’s latest. Can Geologist see into the future? Maybe. But let’s talk the album first.

It starts with “Floridada,” a rollicking, tribal banger befitting A.C.’s trusted seal of quality. And then, out of nowhere, “Painting With” pulls a fast one. Shifting tempo and intensity down a gear, the catchy hooks are replaced with synth-heavy textures and dueling vocals that cartwheel around each other. It’s exciting. Challenging. But this isn’t your dad’s Animal Collective.

Gone are the boundless, ethereal soundscapes that have dotted previous releases. After spending a decade making music in the stratosphere, the gang has fallen back down to Earth to produce a sound with a tangible, in-your-face quality; when compared to the infinity of outer space, this earthling album understandably feels a little claustrophobic. But “Painting With” somehow offers a sense of auditory depth that seems to stretch well beyond the confines of the planet. “Painting With” aims to layer as many textures and strokes of sugary paint over one another as possible. The effect can be overly-sweet, even nauseating at times. But beneath this candy-coated mess, the Collective has left hidden melodies and sublime percussion waiting to be mined by keen ears.

In addition, the Collective’s vocal leads, Avey Tare and Panda Bear, seem to harmonize without harmonizing, alternating singing on not just every word, but every syllable, daring the listener to keep up. The words bend and warp under this effect, and it’s hard to tell what’s being said. But when you catch bits and pieces, you’ll hear that trademark, childlike sense of awe for the world and the tragedy that accompanies it.

The reaction “Painting With” has received from critics has been akin to that of an incoming meteor: the Animal Collective is finished; Pitchfork has found newer, younger darlings to dote on, and they’ve officially lost their edge. But this isn’t the end: Now operating outside of what’s considered vogue, the Animal Collective can continue on their ever-exciting path unpressured by high expectations.

Perhaps what’s sent critics into a panic is this: For once in the Collective’s anomalous history, the oft-proclaimed “inimitable” band borders on the imitable. In a repertoire of songs that intentionally feel unfinished, “Painting With” is clean and calculated. It’s almost conventional. But for a band that has operated outside the lines of orthodoxy for so long, a jump into normalcy is a decidedly unconventional thing to do.

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