Animal Collective ‘Painting With’ (Domino)

Poppiest outing yet from Maryland’s neo-psychedelic adventurers

‘Painting With’ – the 10th studio album from Animal Collective – was premiered on a loop over the PA at their hometown Baltimore International Airport. Set aside the machinations involved in even getting the relevant authorities to agree to this, and it’s still somewhat unbelievable. Airports can be stressful, maddening places – that’s what Brian Eno had in mind when recording the first entry in his ‘Ambient’ series. ‘Painting With’ is emphatically not a calm record. The trio of Panda Bear, Avey Tare and Geologist (Deakin sits this one out, possibly due to his upcoming solo project) have in fact turned in one of their wildest albums yet.

Is it also their most “pop” album? In a sense, yes. Their harmonies have rarely been more catchy, and the songs are relatively concise – 12 of them in just over 40 minutes. Gone is the reverb that was slathered all over ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, and while there’s certainly a lot going on in the mix, it’s nowhere near as muddy as ‘Centipede Hz’. Instead, ‘Painting With’ places a premium on directness and immediacy.

‘FloriDada’, the lead single and standout track, is a good indication of what awaits you. Panda Bear and Avey Tare’s voices cartwheel around each other over a bed of frantic percussion and buzzing electronics. It’s a wonderful, effervescent opener that plays to the group’s strengths. The album as a whole is incredibly hyperactive, and barely able to settle on an idea. While ‘Merriweather’ was sprawling, it was also patient enough to follow through on its abundance of inspiration. ‘Painting With’ is a total synaptic overload with barely any respite – their “Ramones record”, as Panda Bear would have it.

To be clear, a lot of work has gone into this album. From the droney dub of ‘Hocus Pocus’ to the chunky synths of ‘Spilling Guts’, the sonics are as impressive as ever. With tracks such as ‘Vertical’, you wonder, how on earth do they throw so much at the canvas and make it all stick? One piece added or subtracted, a slight tweak in the mix, and everything would fall down. Somehow, this giddy riot manages to stay just within the lines.

However, as enjoyable as ‘Painting With’ can be, it feels rather minor compared to other Animal Collective albums. The tracks aren’t quite discrete enough, and have a tendency to blur together into one sticky mush. It’s an invigorating listen, but I can’t see it lasting the way a masterpiece like ‘Merriweather’ has done. Granted, the lyrics reward closer inspection, but overall, the instant gratification sugar rush approach becomes less appealing with repeat listens.

Animal Collective have always reinvented themselves with a sort of relaxed, inquisitive assurance, but ‘Painting With’ is more of a subtle evolution than a brave new direction. Although maybe that’s exactly what we needed from a band who some had (rashly) suggested were in decline. Honestly, little of this matters when the album has you in its clutches. It’s bursting at the seams with exuberance and invention, and you’d still struggle to list many artists mining a similar vein.

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