I could tell you that Animal Collective are one of the most influential experimental pop bands of the last fifteen years, fusing sonic exploration and pop sensibilities to create their own brand of frenetic, psychedelia-tinged pop. Or I could tell you that their music has been likened to the sound of two of the Beach Boys’ records being played at the same time. Both statements could be true – it just depends on how much suspiciously fragrant “herbal” tea you’ve been drinking at the time.
Animal Collective are a band unafraid of showing their whimsical side. Their music has always revolved around having fun, playing with a kind of childlike innocence. And if I told you that, during the recording process of “Painting With”, baby pools were brought into the studio, pictures of dinosaurs were projected onto the walls, you could understand the kind of sonic experience that Animal Collective seem to be aiming for. “Painting With” is a brave exploration of sugary sweet pop and dense sonic experimentation. It’s a fantastical beast of an album, but it could perhaps use a haircut in places.
“Painting With” immediately kicks into gear with the first single off the album “FloriDada”. “FloriDada” is a perfect example of the aesthetic that Animal Collective are going for with this album. It’s a pop song that’s nearly humorous in its positivity and simplicity. The instrumentation on this track sounds a little like something out of some kind of warped children’s TV show. What gives this track depth is the incessant buzzes and clicks heard throughout. These bizarre noises drift in and out of this track breezily, never making a grand entrance or exit. The noises in the background of this song create a listening experience that rewards the attentive listener. But, it’s the super-catchy vocals on this track that really give it its wide spread appeal. And this is where the crux of “Painting With” lies. When the mixture of Beach Boys-esque pop and dizzying noises is just right something magical is created; but when that balance is tipped in one way or the other the result can be frustrating.
There are a lot of stand-out moments on this album. “Lying In The Grass” is a fantastic piece of song writing. Avey Tare and Panda Bear trade syllables at blistering speeds. It’s one of the most sonically uncluttered songs on the album. The multiplicity of noises seems to a lot more decisive, allowing the syllable swapping to really take over this track. Similarly, the vocals in the first half of “The Burglars” – which is slightly reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel – are a welcome break from the fast, energetic lyrics that dominate most of the album. The album has other moments of greatness to offer. The huge driving chords of “Spilling Guts” or the 8-bit baroque interlude on “Golden Gal” are notable examples. But that is precisely the problem with this album: it is an album littered with moments of brilliance, but the overall package is messy and over-crowded by unnecessary additions in the production. Noises seem to be chucked almost randomly with no thought to how they affect the song as a whole. The constant stream of noise is an interesting choice in terms of sound but it leaves most of this album feeling anxious, as if Animal Collective don’t trust the listener to have an attention span of more than thirty seconds before something new needs to enter to recapture the listeners’ interest. This lack of attention span is also a strength in some ways. Combined with the short song lengths, the constant changes happening on this album propel the listener through the album at great pace. But, by the time you reach the end of the album it is easy to feel a bit underwhelmed. For all the glorious noises and hooks, the speed of change in the album turns everything into a bit of a blur. This is a shame as the writing on this album is fantastic in places. It is let down by being over-encumbered by a hive of noise. This album is the sonic equivalent of giving a toddler a tub of sherbet and a spoon. The toddler may be the having the time of its tiny little life, but there is not a shot in hell you’ll be able to get them to sit still and focus for more than a minute.
Animal Collective ‘Painting With’ is out February 19th
Words by William Calvert