Animal Collective hit their critical and commercial peak with the arrival of Merriweather Post Pavillion in 2009 and promptly followed it up with the indie-artists-textbook-commercial-response by releasing Centipede Hz. Centipede did an excellent job of distancing themselves from whatever new following they had garnered, but it was more to do with where the Collective wanted to go sonically next rather than escape a mainstream audience. For their new album, Painting With, collaborator Deakin (who is often responsible for the noisier moments of AC) has dropped out and we have the Merriweather team of Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist back again, which should send off sparks in any Merriweather fan. And true to the trio’s first real success, Painting With has a bubbly, poppy sound that you could play for anyone without wondering if it would freak them out. It’s less psychedelic and takes more inspiration from heavily textured electronic music, meshing the band’s vocals, synthesisers and percussion for a sound that has more than a passing resemblance to children’s music that’s injected with acid.
One of the best songs featured is ‘Bagels In Kiev’ which takes its time to begin over ambience electronics, but then Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s vocals come in and sing together, which always work because they have unique voices easy to pick apart. The song is very short, especially considering the lengthy intro, but the bounciness and pattering drums carry the song before AC throw in a lyric like ‘These days I’m not so sure who is getting along or if they were before’ to muddy the bright neon happiness in the instrumentation. The band have always been good at making music that sounds like an outburst of pure joy then secretly slipping in lines that are either ambiguous or utterly creepy, and that’s exactly what Animal Collective have done on Painting With. Then there’s the hyperactive ‘The Burglars’ which has vocals at double speed and synthesisers either hum or hop up and down, or ‘Vertical’, which sounds a bit like the Gerbils’ and Neutral Milk Hotel’s Scott Spillane crammed into an experimental pop song, with the endlessly catchy ‘My feet won’t cross the parking lot / The parking lot is way too hot’ outro and themes of height, people that ‘live above you’ and pressure explored.
Has more than a passing resemblance to children’s music that’s injected with acid
But the best song is reserved for the penultimate song – ‘Golden Gal’. It’s a bit like a sister to ‘My Girls’ because it’s so poppy and danceable and the lyrics are deep and perceptive. For example, as the band describe the ‘Golden Gal’, they describe all of the problems that women still face in modern society ‘Different roads not just sexual things’ and ‘You think a gal should feel so comfortable these days / But sex and gender brings some troubles to the fray’. For a band like Animal Collective, you might not expect a song like this, so it’s so pleasantly surprising that they’d write a song as good as this whilst wrapping it in an excellent message. The synths squelch and drop lower and lower on the verse and your stomach drops with it because it’s so dancey. Unfortunately, there are a few faceless tracks on here: ‘Spilling Guts’ has those guts but is pitifully short, almost like they ran out of ideas, and ‘Hocus Pocus’s slower pace and psychedelic squelching can’t quite keep up with its predecessor ‘FloriDada’, which grows and grows with every listen. The singles that AC have released prior to the release – ‘FloriDada’, ‘Lying In The Grass’ and ‘Golden Gal’ are some of the best showcases of the band, it’s just a shame that they couldn’t keep it up on the album tracks as much.
The innocence and darkness metaphors that Animal Collective tend to draw – ‘CBeebies on acid’ or ‘A children’s party on acid’ are very common, but they are rooted in some truth, especially on Painting With. They’ve never sounded this peppy and psychedelic at the same time and the fact that the album hardly lets up on its pace is one of its strengths. If the band stripped down their sound, I don’t think it would work as well and the sound that they have developed has so many nooks and crannies that it’s a sonic wonderland that will reveal something new with every listen. After Centipede Hz, a return to form was definitely needed, so it’s just perfect that the band have returned to their Strawberry Jam / Merriweather Post Pavillion highpoint, except with an even bubblier, squelchier sound.
Funnel Recommends: FloriDada / Bagels In Kiev / Golden Gal