On Feb. 18, critically acclaimed experimental pop group Animal Collective released their seventh album to date, “Painting With”. A wave of anticipation surrounded this release from longtime fans, since it has been four years since their last LP, “Centipede Hz”.
Animal Collective consists of musicians Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist and Deakin (who is absent on this album), all of which alternate between vocals, synthesizers, guitars, percussion, samples, and electronics. In the past decade, Animal Collective has landed on the forefront of the modern experimental music scene.
For those that are previously familiar with AC, it’s easy to say that they’ve historically been devoid of any traditionally normal pop sound. They are by no means your typical run-of-the-gun indie outfit. Characterized by a vast range of other-worldly noises, unusual tempos, shrieking vocals, neo-psychedelia, deeply personal songwriting about wondrous perceptions of the world, and yet oddly catchy harmonies throughout their discography, Animal Collective is a one of a kind sonic mastermind of a band. One could describe them as anti-pop, if such a term existed. I suppose now it does, no?
Animal Collective is notorious for their unpredictability; each album of theirs has a radically different but distinctly brilliant sound from the rest. Among these include the bizarre freak folk of Sung Tongs, the atmospheric and energetic Feels, the sunny and colorful Strawberry Jam, and – perhaps the magnum opus of their career thus far – Merriweather Post Pavilion. Hailed as revolutionary by a number of publications, MPP was a profound statement that juxtaposed a more accessible pop sound with AC’s experimental roots that have defined them as musicians. “Centipede Hz”, although not as adventurous as their previous albums, still brought a welcome array of mystical tunes to AC’s inventory.
On this new project, “Painting With”, the band has deviated a bit from their normal degree of experimentation and instead went for a more upfront psychedelic edge. What distinguishes this album’s sound from the rest of the AC discography is the consistent and straightforward production. Modular synthesizers are heavily emphasized, reverb effects that the band has frequently utilized in the past have been practically eliminated, and most songs are less than four minutes long. Songs here often sound stylistically similar to each other. That does not mean to say that they all sound the same though; each track plays with its own flare of this newfound direction AC is going towards. The songwriting throughout is inspired by the modern art form of Dadaism, which emerged out of the First World War era and is characterized by irrationality and chaotic themes.
The first single from this album, “FloriDada” dropped at the end of November. Dominated by buzzing synthesizers, hectic percussion and exuberant vocals being traded off between Avey Tare and Panda Bear, the song echoes frustrations from outsiders with the geographically and economically privileged state of Florida. I was impressed with this track when I first heard it; I thought of it as a resurgence of energy from AC after a long hiatus of no new material, and it continued to fuel my anticipation for this album.
Beyond the first track, these songs vary in how they are built around the synthesizers. The other two singles released prior to the album are “Lying in the Grass,” which is an optimistic tune about being true to oneself, and “Golden Gal,” an ode to being respectful towards women. Some songs, such as “The Burglars” and “Natural Selection” incorporate fast-paced tempos and meticulously arranged vocal harmonies. Others, such as “Hocus Pocus” and “Bagels in Kiev,” are slower and utilize innovative synthesizer effects to working up the momentum. The closing track, “Recycling,” is one of my favorite tracks on the album; it utilizes playful vocals and woodwind melodies likened to a more Merriweather Post Pavilion-era sound compared to the rest of what is here.
As a whole, it is probably their most pop-oriented production to date, with much of the freakishness having been stripped away in order for them to capitalize on this new sound. This may be somewhat disappointing to those already fans of Animal Collective’s prior works that came into this album expecting to be blown away by ethereal experimentation, since that same freakishness is what has served them well into having such a dedicated fan base. But nonetheless, Animal Collective’s past exploits serve as their merits for keeping old fans running back to them whenever they release something new. Those that are new to Animal Collective with this album and find themselves enjoying it, however, are opening the door to a world of sonic mayhem.
I would give this album an 8/10. As a die-hard Animal Collective fan and experimental music aficionado, I cannot say I was disappointed by “Painting With” like others may have been. This album has its fair share of catchy psychedelic tunes that will most likely carry weight in their genre for the rest of the year. The songs here may not be quite as booming or sensory-overloading as those on Strawberry Jam or MPP, but they remain sonically stimulating. It was less cluttered and more organized than “Centipede Hz”, but I felt they could have perhaps pushed their boundaries a bit farther with pioneering the poppier sound.
Did I come out of it happy with what I heard? Absolutely. Did I find myself wanting more? Maybe slightly. Would I recommend it to others? Sure. Is it their finest work? Not by any means. But still one of the more enjoyable albums I’ve heard thus far this year. I don’t know if there will ever be another Animal Collective record attaining the groundbreaking raves Merriweather Post Pavilion had, but at least they can only gain more fans at this point.