Photo from gorillavsbear.net
By Matthew Levine
Animal Collective, the psychedelic experimenters who became famous for wearing masks and screaming into microphones, have toned down their avant-garde tendencies for a more approachable sound with their tenth studio album, “Painting With.”
While this new album does indeed sound more audience friendly, a fan of this wild and goofy band won’t be disappointed by any of the songs on here. Even the catchier ones like “Floridada,” which speeds along like a warped song by The Beach Boys, still includes the random giggles and screams that a fan would expect. The main difference here when it comes to this album, is that none of the songs meander. Each one rushes along with an intense energy and ends within a few minutes.
While their earlier albums like “Feels” and “Strawberry Jam” felt more like long emotional mediations of strangeness, “Painting With” never seems to slow down. Even though this does make for an entertaining and fun listen, the album seems to be absent of any emotional resonance. The design here seems to be more concerned with peaking the listener’s interest with its experimentation, than making the listener feel connected with its tones.
Most of the songs on “Painting With” feature an intriguing vocal technique where both vocalists Noah Lennox and David Portner sing every other syllable of the lyrics throughout the course of each song. This catchy lyrical effect creates a disorienting and original sound that will overwhelm the listener in both positive and negative ways. While on one hand it is most certainly fun to hear something so strange and poppy, it does bury the lyrics, making each word incredibly hard to decipher. Most of the songs on here include this effect, which, by the end of the album, feels more like a party trick instead of some stroke of genius.
However, if one were to decipher these lyrics by listening closely, it’s clear that there are thematic points and references made throughout each song. Amidst the belching synths and tribal drums, there are statements here that seem to closely reflect the personalities of each band member. In the song “Bagels in Kiev,” Portner reflects on his families troubled times in a region torn by war. In “Golden Gal,” a song filled with cleverly placed samples like a snippet of dialog taken from the show “The Golden Girls,” the band examines gender roles and their effects on society. In other songs like “Vertical,” they’ll quickly drop all the seriousness to sing about daily concerns like the uncomfortable temperature of your car after it’s been sitting in a boiling parking lot for the last few hours.
Ultimately, “Painting With” seems to reflect a certain level of maturity that has come over the band since their last album, the disturbing and disorienting “Centipede Hz.” Now, these band members who once became famous for being rebellious kids, are grown men in their late thirties with kids of their own. This newfound level of maturity seems to have brought their work into some unexpected territory, that now instead of wanting to challenge its audience, the band merely wants to entertain without losing their creative edge. While this isn’t one of their masterpieces, it’s clear that they achieved exactly what they were setting out to do here.