Last week Animal Collective released their 10th full-length studio album, Painting With. I must say that my initial reaction upon listening to the record was not positive. Nothing from the album particularly grabbed me on the first listen, but I still respected the band for once again reinventing their sound and producing something truly innovative. After giving it a few spins, I am finding that just like almost every Animal Collective album, the puzzle begins to unfold only once the listener delves deep into the music. While I still don’t think that Painting With is one of their best, it’s a record that has a lot to offer to the attentive and patient music fan.
Painting With hits rather hard at first. The layers upon layers of sound are so eclectic that they were nearly impossible to process until I had some time to digest them a bit. Panda Bear and Avey Tare’s vocals erratically bounce back and forth between each other, backed by unrelenting percussion and synthesizers. Being blasted with a wall of sound is not something that Animal Collective fans are unaccustomed to, but nevertheless it still manages to catch me off guard. Once I was able to listen a few times to consider the layers separately, the bright, upbeat psychedelic pop feel of the album began to shine through. “Golden Gal” might be the only easily accessible track on the entire record.
I can’t help but feel like Painting With is supposed to feel like a sonic piece of Dadaist art. Obviously the title refers to visual art, and the genre is found in the first track (“FloriDada”), but the way these songs are constructed feels like the collage style of Dada as well. Various small musical items seem to be smashed together into one song, whether they fit smoothly or not. Vocal melodies are constructed of different snippets that have been cut out and pasted next to each other. Synthesizer tones that sound somewhat clownish and artificial trip over drum beats that fall rhythmically out of line with the melody. Possibly the best example of this is “Lying in the Grass”.
The one real criticism I have for Painting With is that it could really use a bit more variety. Stylistically each song is very similar, with a similar aesthetic and even tempos that do not vary to a great degree. I think this will make Painting With have less staying power than previous Animal Collective gems such as Strawberry Jam or Merriweather Post Pavillion. Painting With is certainly worth digging into for anyone who simply enjoys a musical experiment, and an album that can grow on you if you give it a chance.