“Their most accessible album to date”
~James Acaster, on Painting With by Animal Collective
There’s not much more to say, to be honest. Regarding Animal Collective’s 10th studio album, Painting With, I find myself agreeing with Mr. Acaster and @Knewnie; it’s accessible, it’s got some decent moments, but there’s really just not much here.
I’ve said it before, but one trait that made 2000s Animal Collective stand out so much to me was the constant experimentation and the always-changing sounds in their records. Even in Danse Manatee and Ark, two albums that I didn’t enjoy as much, there was always that underlying feeling in the music - that the band was really putting their all into trying new things. Really, in all of the albums so far, there’s been at least a little bit of this sort of excitement in the music; it made even the weaker tracks seem to fit in with the band’s development.
And that’s really my whole problem with Painting With. None of the tracks here are offensively horrible - none of them are really even all that bad. It just feels… lifeless, to me. Not that there isn’t emotion and effort in the music; it’s clear that the band is still enjoying making their music, but it also stands out among their other works in its strangely uneventful sounds.
So, what’s my problem with the music here? It mostly comes down to the somewhat unchanging sound throughout the album. Avey Tare has said that this album was partially a response to the reverby, ambient sound that was growing in popularity at the time. On one hand, I do partially get where he’s coming from; at the time of this release, there was definitely a lot more music coming out that focused on creating a soundscape rather than a collection of fun songs. I can understand the band growing tired of that droning sound that characterized many of their earlier albums as more and more bands replicate it. But on the other hand, I think that the band’s sound suffers as a result of their choice to avoid it.
Albums like Feels and MPP worked, despite having more consistent sounds than the earlier albums, because of the variety of musical ideas included in the albums. Both featured more energetic, bouncy songs, while also having a fair share of more laid-back songs and even some glitchy ambient pieces. And they put all of that in while still managing to string it together with a consistent sound that held together the albums. Painting With is 12 songs that sound both disjointed and too similar. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them formulaic, but there is not as much variety as you might expect from an AnCo album.
Well, I’ll talk about how it sounds. The production is the part of this album that irritates me the most. It’s not bad, but it’s just… a bit boring. Compared to the last few albums, the songs are all much simpler and unchanging. Nearly every song has a soft, synthy instrumental and a lively, subdued drumbeat. Nearly every song has those usual overlapping AnCo vocals, sharing strange stories through some light but unusual singing. Obviously there are exceptions to these descriptions, but listening through the whole album makes it feel like I just listened to 41 minutes of that exact sound. It isn’t a bad sound! It’s just sad to hear it over and over in these mostly unremarkable songs. I wish that, just once or twice, they’d include some more abrasive sounds, or a passage of music that’s totally different, attention grabbing, and weird. As it is, many of the songs here sound strangely derivative of their older music; it’s like the wonderful sound experimentation and songwriting on Sung Tongs, but flattened out. The songs on Painting With contain the sounds of earlier Animal Collective, but it never seems to totally come together.
Regarding the songs, however, there are a few moments that I enjoyed here: I really like the chorus in “On Delay”, and “Golden Gal” is really an overall sweet song. “Floridada”, of course, is a fun and interesting track that does a nice job at opening this album… But while Centipede Hz had its “Moonjock” moments, I just don’t get any of that from Painting With. While I agree it’s a good song overall, “Floridada” and the other high points here don’t seem especially interesting to me, especially in comparison to their other work. It might just be the somewhat ‘restrained’ instrumentals, but many of the songs here feel a little bit unfinished, like they could have had something else added.
In the end, this album is accessible, and the music is fine. It’s a disappointing entry in AnCo’s discography, though. Their music has changed so much over the years, and even this album sounds unmistakably ‘Animal Collective’ - it’ll be interesting to see where they go next. <3
Favorite Songs: Floridada, Bagels in Kiev, Golden Gal, On Delay
Least Favorite Songs: Natural Selection, Spilling Guts