Animal Collective ‘Painting With’ – Review

25 Feb

Animal collective personified blog buzz back in 2009, when indie-rock bands put away guitars, started digging The Beach Boys and dialled up the ambition. Grizzly Bear, Deerhunter and Dirty Projectors were all big but none received quite so much hype as Animal Collective. In ‘Merriether Post Pavillion’ they had an album that deserved the acclaim.

Seven years later and the muted response that has greeted ‘Painting With’ is emblematic of just how far (this particular flavour of) Indie Rock’s stock has fallen. The genre has reverted to type; it’s back to being insular, lo-if, scene based and rooted in punk values. Nothing wrong with that, but it does make the expansive, ambitious, melodically and harmonically driven sound of Animal Collective seem out of place. Seven years later, indie rock has far more modest aims. In its confusion, bizzare singularity and skewed targets ‘Painting With’ typifies this deflated mood perfectly.

The group’s last album, ‘Centepiede HZ’, was a messy and overwhelming collection that could easily be the worst follow up to a classic album that I can recall. The good news is that while ‘Painting With’ still has some of that album’s less pleasant traits, it’s not quite as over the top and busy. It’s not rammed to the rafters with layers and layers of noise. It’s not drenched in reverb. The songs aren’t long and dirge like. These, at least, are positive steps in the right direction.

And in ‘Floridada’ and ‘Golden Gal’, they possess two positive singles. The two tracks bubble along with an irrepressible enthusiasm that is infectious rather than annoying. They’re busy but not so crammed with ideas that you can’t tell one hook from another. The melodies are highlighted and not overwhelmed by what is happening in the margins. But these are the exception. For the most part the tracks on ‘Painting With’ are restless and lacking in space for quiet contemplation. Listening to it from start to finish is akin to being repeatedly whacked around the head by a hyperactive child with a rubber mallet. It is an irritating, headache inducing experience.

The group have a increasingly disruptive attitude which steers them towards disorientation. The sounds are there to dazzle you in to a state of confusion, whilst the lurching, grasping rhythms seem perfectly designed to trip you up. Take album closer ‘Recycling’ as an example. The song starts with a blaze of beeps and burps including a sound mimicking an alarm going off to one imitating a gurgling tap left to drip overnight. Then bells start ringing low down in the mix as synths fade in like a rising sun. At 38 seconds a kick drum starts keeping time but the synths, which now start bending, pay no attention to this and continue to warp in and out of tune to their own invisible beat. Suddenly you realise a clock is ticking in the background, also to its own rhythm. When Avey and Panda Bear enter the scenario at the minute mark they are lost in their own world, oblivious to the crazy soundscape we’ve been landed in. They trade syllables, in the now customary way, in perfect alternation but somehow completely oblivious to one another. There is no emotional or spiritual connection. They say things but who knows what – their singing style and the dubious mix makes the words inaudible. And ‘Recycling’ is the prettiest, most soulful song on the album

As impressive as the vocals, on a purely visceral level, can sometimes be, the songs exist with an utterly hollow core. In the place that it matters, Animal Collective are lacking. There is also a distinct lack of groove; for all their love of exotic sounds and world music, Animal Collective remain the whitest group in all of human existence (musically, not racially). As technically accomplished as the group undoubtedly are, you have to wonder – to what end? Their syllable swapping is impressive but ultimately unmoving. The strange musical sounds are curious but hardly unprecedented. In the end It’s a thoroughly exhausting album to listen to. Animal Collective know some tricks, sure, but what good are these skills if they don’t implement them in a credible way? Like a Brazilian footballer who dribbles and nutmegs his way around the pitch so artfully but shoots the ball in to the rafters when staring at the mouth of the goal. The group’s daunting reputation prevents widespread criticism but this mess surely deserves nothing else?



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