Album Review: Animal Collective - Painting With

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

It feels like a long time since we last saw Animal Collective, not because three and a half years is an egregiously long time to wait for a new album, but because so much has happened since then, both within the Collective and out of it. Centipede Hz came out in September of 2012, an album which, in a lot of ways, put the band back in the swamp that they'd risen slightly out of with the shimmering pop swarm of Merriweather Post Pavilion. After working on their darkest project ever, the visual album , the band made a strenuous voyage towards creating a Merriweather follow up as a quartet. The album was a doozy, jam packed with experimental sound and sonic fury and near merciless to all but the experienced Animal Collective listener. After a supporting tour featuring a giant inflatable mouth, the members returned to their solitary states, dispersing across the globe for a reprieve. What followed were years of some solo projects and some child-rearing, and a lot of Animal Collective growing into themselves as human beings. Coming back together for the childlike joy of Painting With, you can feel this fact more than ever, as Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist all come out of the shadows for a romp of a record that invites the listener to join in the eclectic fun more than ever before.

Lead single "Floridada" hits you right out of the gate, and immediately, you realize that this is not the same Animal Collective that gave you Centipede. The first reason is obvious: Deakin is not taking part in this record, and the band has assumed a trio for recording the new album. The second reason is more hidden: even the trio setting of Merriweather doesn't explain the outright brightness of the album's pop wonder of a single. Picture the first time you heard "In The Flowers" - here, there is a warmth and a light that you see through a mist that you don't really understand. on the contrary, "Floridada" smacks you with the light until you smile along with it. There are no filters or overdubs or anything else standing between you and the goofy synthetic sounds emerging from the drum circle in front of you. It's giddy to the point of being a little bit creepy. It's an unflinching positivity that scares you like a happy clown. This is the Animal Collective we get on Painting With - don't be surprised if experience doesn't prepare you for what the future holds.

The album's title and the band's promotional iPhone app of the same name both give you a clue as to what exactly has propelled the new direction. For this album's recording process, the band chose a radically different approach than Centipede. All now living in different places around the world, Avey, Panda, and Geologist all rented a space in LA to write and record the LP in a furious collection of jams. All bringing their own collection of wacky sounds (Avey's lead oscillating synth being the most standoffish of the bunch), the three seem to approach every song as a simultaneous real-time collaborative painting project. If there's an accidental harmony that works great, awesome! If there's a misstep that throws things for a loop, even better. While the sounds themselves may be sharper than ever (void of Animal Collective's previously ubiquitous love of post-production), the songs herein are rough and tumble. It very quickly becomes clear why the band have called this one their "Ramones" record.

Much like Merriweather before it, Painting With goes song by song handing reins off between Avey and Panda Bear. Last time we saw Avey, it was with Slasher Flicks, his project with Angel Deradoorian, taking influence from classic horror camp and usual Avey Tare antics. Thankfully, the project had a distinctly ghoulish sound, and Avey got to save up a lot of his spare swamp noises for Painting With, and they are here in plentiful numbers. For Panda Bear, our last visit was Grim Reaper, his concept album about looking death in the face over a groovy experimental beat. I'd say apples to apples it sounds like Avey has the lion's share of instrumentation on Painting With, while many of Panda Bear's Grim Reaper vocal tendencies take precedent (mostly the alternating vocal see-saw we were introduced to on "Boys Latin").

Painting With moves quite quickly. With the slimmest run time of any Animal Collective record in recent history, it burns through many songs barely clocking the three minute marker. But what the band lack in experimental mantra, they make up for aplenty with fresh, lively jam-oriented statements. While there's plenty of sheen, this really feels like a back-to-basics Animal Collective record, feeling the most forward and aggressive since Sung Tongs (minus the screeching banshee vocals). Here, the band is embracing unapologetic positivity and childlike wonder for the first time in ages. It might be due to the fatherhood that some of its members find themselves living into in recent years. Or, it might be one of our favorite experimental bands just throwing us for another loop. Whatever the case may be, Painting With is a delightful adventure in collaboration, from whatever state you find yourself in.

Painting With is out now through Domino Recordings! Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. Animal Collective are touring the new album as a trio, and they will make a stop at the Neptune with opener Ratking on March 4! The show is sold out, but you can check it out here.

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