Animal Collective: Painting With

Scott Wallace
16th Feb 2016

Animal Collective, who have long been one of the most daring and downright fun groups in the self-serious indie music sphere, are back with their tenth studio album, the bright and bold Painting With. With broader strokes and big blocks of colour, Animal Collective have made a record that is more immediate than their previous work, but that seems to have misplaced something essential to their sound.

Coming together for the first time in the studio since 2012’s Centipede Hz, the collective of Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist have reined in the overdriven psychedelia of that record for something mellow and melodic. On this record, the group give themselves more space and more room to breathe. Just check out the thumping hip-hop beat and gorgeous overlapping chorus on “Vertical" for proof of the band’s pop chops.

The record gets off to an exceptional start with “FloriDada,” which was also released as the lead single. It quickly earns the second part of its portmanteau title with nonsense lyrics delivered gleefully by Avey Tare and Panda Bear. Second track “Hocus Pocus” is also a stand out – a textural and brightly shining song that takes the band’s bold corruption of pop music to an immediately pleasurable place.

The energy quickly dips, though, and the record fails to hold the listener’s attention. Painting With is one of Animal Collective’s shortest studio albums, but it still drags, quickly falling into a narrow rut of repeated ideas and sounds that make the songs blur together. Even a disastrous song would have broken the monotony, but the majority of the record is a flat run to the end, where even a voice sample from Golden Girls on “Golden Gal” can’t command attention.

The lowest points on the record, such as the stale and forgettable single “Lying in the Grass,” a rehash of Panda Bear’s solo single “Boys Latin” with a tired weed reference, or the impotently thumping “Natural Selection,” feel as if the band has dumbed down their sound. It’s still distinctly Animal Collective, but it’s not the same band that has pushed forward into new territory with every release.

At times, Painting With sounds almost like a parody of experimental indie rock music; Maybe the title of the final track "Recycling" is a sly, self-effacing joke. Perhaps this is what the band’s music would sound like re-imagined by fellow Baltimorean, filmmaker John Waters, who hones in on the obvious and the stupid and celebrates it. But Painting With is not witty or reflexive enough in its clichés to read as camp, and it is definitely not inventive or exciting enough to inspire. It just is. 

Painting With is out on CD, vinyl and digital formats on Friday February 19.