It can be argued that Animal Collective have one of the most steadfast and divisive discographies around. Since their inception in 1999 and bar maybe one minor malfunction in ‘Centipede Hz’ (even this is debated), the collective have crafted a subversive post-modern soundboard – music for hippies (or self-indulgent hipsters), a transcendent dreamland of psychedelic colours, and odes to the past through Beach Boy-esque harmonies.
On paper, the refreshing facet of their tenth studio release ‘Painting With’, lies in the runtime of all twelve tracks, no one song exceeding the five minute mark. While there may be an underlying desire to be more streamlined, it soon dawns that you’re surging through the record at breakneck speed, each track hitting the listener with familiar axiomatic punch, full of effervescence and madness. The reduced runtime doesn’t mean it’s easier to digest, the record is skittish and at times infuriating in its reliance on ‘80s computer game noises and a haberdashery of synthetic blips. Calling cards are frustratingly unswerving, opener ‘FloriDada’ and ‘The Burglars’ feature alternate syllabic harmonies that we’ve become accustomed to, Portner and Lennox utilising the same vocal technique to the point where it becomes wearisome, even if it is a technical feat in itself.
‘Painting With’ has its charms, however. ‘Bagels In Kiev’ proves to be a rare introspective moment, made more accessible in its reined-back tempo, and a substantive reference to family history. The subtle textures, lyrical depth and levity proves a winning combination on ‘Golden Gal’, a minimalist track with faint allusions to pop melody and harmonies. ‘On Delay’ feels like their epiphany moment, broadcasted through the line “I hear it doubly clear”, a jubilant anthem of realisation told through a sweet piano refrain. Listening again, though these tracks are small triumphs, they don’t linger in the mind either, indeed providing small bursts of frenetic energy but nothing long-lasting.
Over a decade into their career, it’s clear Animal Collective don’t create to placate. Their sonic tapestries revel in being tricky algorithms and if you’re one of the lucky ones who can find the formula, the experience can be rewarding. This applies to ‘Painting With’, a record that has moments of brilliance but by virtue of trying to be a novelty record, actually comes closer to being a rehash of their previous work.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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