Animal Collective reinvents sound with new LP

Chris Duncan

After producing nine albums in 12 years, Animal Collective established themselves as one of the most consistently fluid bands in modern experimental music, changing their sound with ease from release to release. Friday’s Painting With follows this pattern, with the band opting for a brand new look at their signature pop sound.

Animal Collective may be one of the most prominent experimental acts in the 21st century, but their output in recent years has lacked the gusto and balance of 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. They seemed to hit a rut, forgoing traditional pop structure for extended jams. Citing stress from expectations for their music, Animal Collective took a break in 2012 to focus on solo projects. Now, they’re back with Painting With, this time favoring a heavily adjusted sound that cuts out reverb, creating short songs to create a pop-oriented album.

In typical Animal Collective fashion, every song on the album features trippy vocal effects and an abundance of modular synths and percussion instruments, but Painting With wavers from the group’s consistently dynamic song structures.

By the end of one listen to this project, it’s obvious that the album is formulaic, retracing the steps it creates with its first four tracks for the eight songs that follow. Although that formula is fun in itself, tracks such as “The Burglars” and “Bagels in Kiev” sound like carbon copies of previous songs with only slight adjustments.

Other elements lack the sheer delight of previous Animal Collective hits, especially in lyrical content. “Spilling Guts” builds itself up by discussing the struggle of achieving success, but then ends in an anticlimactic manner by repeating “fall back” eight times.

Despite lyrical shortcomings, there are several impressive vocal moments on this record, thanks in part to a variety of effects used. The album’s lead single, “FloriDada,” has some of the most fun lyrics of any Animal Collective song in recent memory, and “Golden Gal” uses its minimal production style to bring focus onto the song’s contemplative lyrics.

Like almost any Animal Collective release, the real art here lies in instruments and production. Painting With is a collage of short three-minute ideas, helping paint a picture with confidence. Overall, the album is a very coherent experience, building on basic three-chord riffs to create a succinct statement.

Two huge elements of Animal Collective’s sound have been eliminated in this project — reverb and extended instrumentals. Although both of these helped create memorable listens from the group, the decision to remove the elements from their repertoire makes perfect sense. It’s easy to imagine a song such as “On Delay” with the band’s old style, but the more minimal version makes perfect sense to display the meaning of the song through lyrics rather than a complex artistic show. Restricting these features allows Animal Collective to show the essence of their music, making Painting With a very Ramones-like statement.

Ignoring the occasional disappointment, Painting With restores the genuine spirit and joy of Animal Collective’s previous releases, delivering a new interpretation of their experimental pop to keep fans satisfied. Some songs flounder lyrically, but overall, Painting With is another memorable album from one of the premier psychedelic pop groups of this generation.

Album: Painting With

  • Genre: Experimental Pop
  • Tracks: 12
  • Rating: B