PAINTING WITH by Animal Collective
Genre: Psychedelic Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Floridada,” “Vertical,” “On Delay,” “Golden Gal”
Wouldn’t it be kinda neat to paint with AnCo? Well, hey, it’ll probably never happen, but their new album PAINTING WITH offers a glimpse into that stripped back, trial-and-error process, both ugly and occasionally beautiful, not so dissimilar from the actual process of painting. The title and artwork alone give a good context for what this record sounds like: repeating, disintegrating lines, modulation, and abstract sounds. It also signifies the music’s accessibility ‒ the portraits of the three members of the band who worked on the record, Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist, offer the clearest visual connection in AnCo’s discography between the music and the musicians (Deakin, the band’s fourth member and guitarist, is absent from this record and probably working on a long-awaited solo LP). Being the same trio that brought you MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION in 2009, some would hope that PAINTING WITH would be its sequel, just as 2012’s CENTIPEDE HZ, featuring them as a quartet once more, felt like STRAWBERRY JAM’s in some aspects. Unfortunately, this is no MPP.
PAINTING WITH is, if anything, a consistently fun LP. The tempo never drops from front to back, and Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s back-and-forth vocals fly past the listener, rendering their lyricism almost incomprehensible without a diligent read-along. The aspects of this record that make it so fun to listen to, paradoxically, become its crutch. Gurgling synthesizers, Beach Boy vocal stylings, and a constant use of polyrhythms become tiring by the halfway mark. Luckily there are some moments of reprieve, like the intro to “Bagels in Kiev” and “On Delay,” and scattered moments across the record ‒ a bridge or section of a single song ‒ that take a break from the woodpecker-esque songwriting. But overall, the tracks tend to blend together, resulting in an album that is technically complex and crams a ton of energy into each track (with an obvious case of overthinking going on as well), but seemingly produced in the same way every time. The whole theme of the record may be of repetitions and reflections, but even then the tracks on PAINTING WITH tend to suffer from that very quality.
Yet there are still moments where the listener can find pleasure in all their hard work. The vocal delivery seems the most complex of the features of the album, at least in terms of the reflective theme; sometimes Panda Bear and Avey Tare’s call-and-response, or at other moments one repeating lines while the other continues the lyrical path. On multiple tracks one will repeat the syllables said by the other, and while interesting at first, this becomes one of the most tedious aspects of PAINTING WITH. Although, almost every track does seem to have its own goal for the vocal structure; sometimes the lines for a verse will be delivered by a subtle robotic voice before Tare gets a chance to deliver them, and in other cases, one vocalist will repeat an entire verse underneath the leading vocal line delivering the next. So, admittedly, yes, this record has variation and complexity to its surface repetitiveness, but those details only show through by listening analytically while high on caffeine. Listening casually, the tracks begin to meld into one another, bearing the veneer of redundancy that can at times plague the listener.
Like any Animal Collective record, PAINTING WITH is delivered with the layered complexity they’ve become known for. This time however, they chose to focus on individual tracks rather than composing for a complete, satisfying LP. By focusing on songs alone without thinking of the big picture ‒ what the record would be like as a whole ‒ they ended up writing and recording the same song in eight different ways. As a result, there’s no “For Reverend Green,” “Brother Sport,” or “Amanita” on PAINTING WITH. Besides “Floridada,” the only truly standout track is “Golden Gal,” which also happens to be awkwardly their most radio-friendly song on the LP.
PAINTING WITH is enjoyable, but rather than make challenging music, AnCo went full blown Beach-Boys-in-a-manic-cartoon-daydream, and there’s only so much of that you can take in before it becomes headache-inducing.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend