There’s an interesting caution from Animal Collective on ‘The Burglars’, buried in the middle of Painting With – “What you think you own you don’t/ Watch out the burglars.” Is it a reference to sampling ethics, or the music industry; to record execs and publishing rights? Maybe it’s a meta ‘pop will eat itself’ in-joke, or a more existential riff on the transience of life – to cherish friends and family. Maybe one of them has just had their gaff robbed. Whatever the meaning behind it, ruminating on the warning is more gratifying than the actual song that houses it. It’s a shame when you have to go looking for highs on an Animal Collective release.
Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist (the erstwhile Deakin is absent from this outing) have never been afraid to delight their listeners with a plethora of buried sounds, and as ever the details that reside underneath the initial melodic flare are revealed on each consecutive listen; sumptuous samples and dizzying layers of sound, pummelled and pulled along on those idiosyncratic drum patterns. It’s a technique they perfected on their previous album, but where Centipede Hz was mesmerising – a dazzling array of composite parts interlocking to form a kaleidoscopic soundscape – Painting With, in comparison, just seems busy. We’ve heard them do this before, and better.
There’s an undeniable immediacy to Painting With – no theme is dwelled upon for too long before it’s off to the next sonic play area. Things begin promisingly enough as the Afrobeat of ‘FloriDada’ flourishes into that now-trademark eardrum-peppering of glitches, samples, vocal gymnastics and Technicolor. The turbulent repetition of the title is as gleefully nonsensical as the art movement it references – Animal Collective flirting with the avant garde? Well, I never. Despite the myriad synthetic/organic elements stitched together by Tare, Bear and Geologist on Painting With, though, the completed tapestry is a techno-indebted mess – Dan Deacon on blue ghosts, only with less focus.
Panda Bear and Geologist spar with one another, echoing vocals tripping up and down the scales on ‘Lying in the Grass’; ‘Natural Selection’ ups the tempo with a pounding backbeat and swirling, snaking synth lines; ‘On Delay’s “I hear it doubly clear” trails away as the BPM counter winds up from the albums front end…and so it goes. ‘Spilling Guts’ is a bass drum laden two minutes, heavy in execution, light on substance, and ‘Summing the Wretch’ follows suit – again heavy on the bass drum, again that tried-and-tested repetitive vocal effect.
But wait, a nostalgia hit – a sample of big-sisterly Dorothy chastising ever-petulant Blanche in a poppier, less abrasive song that references a much-loved 80s sitcom. ‘Golden Gal’ seems a fitting cut from an album put together in the same room that hosted the recordings of Pet Sounds and Smile – warm, funny and melodically wonderful. They let the song breathe, the effects less intrusive than anywhere else, and the harmonies that recall the Wilson brothers – often fantastic on Painting With, and a staple of AC albums past – seem effortless in contrast to the more contrived nature of the record’s sonic mishmash. It makes your heart pine for the band that made Feels.
Each Animal Collective release has been a step forward in their musical and conceptual evolution. Painting With – their 10th – while not a bad album by any means, sounds more like a collection of odds’n’sods that didn’t make the cut for Centipede Hz. This isn’t so much a bad record as a frustrating one. Animal Collective are capable of so much more, as they have consistently proven – Painting With doesn’t do them justice.