Ornate experiments that demand attention
When bands enter the later phases of their careers, they often trend towards one of two equally troublesome fates. Bands that continually probe outwards seeking new sonic material risk alienating longtime fans. Alternatively, bands that rehash the same ideas for years give listeners few reasons to keep paying attention. On their latest album, Painting With, indie experimental quarter Animal Collective proves their ability to sidestep both downfalls. 16 years after the group’s debut studio release, the band has refined their previously sprawling and manic sound into an ornate, but compact, offering.
Painting With’s opening track — “FloriDada” — is a rejuvenating statement. Animal Collective layer chorus-drenched, Beach Boys-esque vocals and squelching synthesizers over a relentlessly driving beat. Front man Panda Bear’s (Noah Lennox) lyrics whip past in a rapid staccato, but still add a dimension of stimulating imagery, such as: “A dancer from Ghana / Smiling in Tijuana / I Frankenstein java with touches of Prada.” Animal Collective’s best decision on Painting With, however, was cleaning out their sonic atmosphere to foreground their opulent synthesizer arrangements and intricate beats.
The best moments of Painting With are also its simplest. The first 20 seconds of “On Delay,” for example, consist solely of a quiet, metronome-steady tapping, a subtle synthesizer and Panda Bear’s tinny vocals. Animal Collective piles on the synths as the track progresses, but the understated introduction attests to the band’s ability to craft evocative moments. The straightforward pulse of “Natural Selection” and “Hocus Pocus” also provide evidence for the argument that Animal Collective may truly be at their best when they pare down and highlight their off-kilter chord progressions.
Painting With certainly does not contain tracks that reach the poignant depths of “For Reverend Green” or the elegant eloquence of “My Girls.” Still, as Animal Collective’s tenth studio album, Painting With proves that the band has still not emptied their apparently massive creative reserves.