Animal Collective – Painting With (Domino, 2016)


It’s not easy to approach the tenth LP of a band with such a storied career, not least since it’s one of the most lambasted records they’ve had in some time, a criticality which I think is being overplayed by most. Over the years Animal Collective have surprised and enchanted so many with their records, each time in different ways, to the point where it’s become impossible to please irrespective of direction. Although the logical successor to magnum opus Merriweather Post Pavilion (that predecessor Centipede Hz didn’t turn out to be), many have decried the new Pop direction to be a step too far, citing their age as a responsible factor. I say otherwise.

AnCo make it clear that Dadaism is the inspirational factor here, an artistic movement that slams the bourgeois and artistic conformity, right from the off in the excitable opener “FloriDada”; it’s surprisingly stripped back but still possesses a very rich backfield populated by Geologist’s dynamic electronic croonings as Avey and Panda sing of embracing the beauty of difference and the knowledge of travel, a luxury that many Americans dont enjoy outside the confines of their own country much to their detriment. The hocketing of the vocalists also finds itself employed at many other junctures in the record to great effect, next in the wet synth gloopiness of secondary “Hocus Pocus” that seeks out difference and the magic of alternative viewpoints in its methodical ploddings, and the deep cuts of blatting “Spilling Guts” that ratchets itself forwards in quite breezy and laidback shimmies as they sing of how hard it is to keep a man down even through hardships.

“Summing The Wretch” is the last of the real back-and-forth hocketing pieces, weirdly bright and bubbly on the surface in its clipped and breathy steps but seemingly in weird support of bad behaviour (stealing for example) just so long as nobody sees, a very childlike mentality; if nobody saw then nothing wrong happened. This is a sticking point referenced elsewhere as AnCo get a bit political and criticise the powers that be who think they can get away with such things, as on the urgent rushings of buzzing “The Burglars”. Rather than talk of home invaders they rally more against the Man in rapidfire vocals that rattle off subtly disparaging remarks about the unfeeling, unsympathetic Government that worries about numbers rather than people. Same too in its follow up “Natural Selection” that continues its synth idiosyncrasies in warbling tones and pacy beats that consider briefly the dark puppetry above us as they slather us in obfuscating melody.

“You think success belongs to the bank”

Indeed, these sentiments come to a head in the woozy closer “Recycling”, lost in slow and heady synths that speaks deeply of reduction of intellectual values, of selling out and producing more generic somethings for the populace after the peak. It’s so bleary and split between Avey and Panda it’s easy to miss its undertones, and indeed I’m sure others will come away with differing sentiments, but its hard to disagree with money if all it takes is sacrificing some artistic values just to appease a bigger audience.

Some cynics may take that to mean that Animal Collective themselves have sold out and gone Pop and defied their roots, but everything about this is still so youthful and antagonistic, still so intelligently designed to be contrarian. Sure, at first glance there’s a sense that they’ve gone down an irredeemable path to their fans and gotten old and lame, pandering even, but dig a little deeper and there’s a tremendous wellspring of paradoxical lyrics that still fight the good fight even if the presentation has changed. Don’t be so quick to judge this one, it’s got a deep and complicated heart, it’s just softened by a more palatable means of consumption.

(Possible epilepsy warning for the above video)