Painting With Animal Collective, Domino Records
So far this year I’ve been listening to and loving Hinds debut album Leave Me Alone. It is all very immediate, in-your-face, teenage cockiness – arrogant, careless and just slightly intimidating. Then along comes the tenth album from Animal Collective and here is something quite, quite different. What they share is a sense of fun, a maniacal cackling at life as they knock over the ‘do not…’ signs and run all over the grass.
Everything about Animal Collective is layered: layers within layers within layers dominate every second of the music. Sound clumped, constructed, extruded onto sound, vocals cutting back and forth syllable by syllable, rhythm bouncing on rhythm, higher and higher, lower and lower, swirling down and up, back and forth. Intensely busy music, a sugar rush made manifest inside your headphones. Painting With is frantic and melodic. Those in the know make links with the Beach Boys, especially Pet Sounds – both albums were recorded in the same studio. Animal Collective have spoken about channelling the Ramones in these sessions. Punk this is not, but if there is a link (and the harmonies are playing volleyball on the same beach as Wilson et al) then it is akin to turntabling a Beach Boys album on 45rpm. Which is a Ramones sort of thing to do.
Many reviewers have already expressed disappointment with Painting With. The received opinion is that 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was Animal Collective’s high point – an accessible and critically claimed success. Their follow-up, Centipede Hz from 2012, was too obscure, too much of a self-conscious move away from popularity and now ‘Painting With’ is far too normal, too hippy, trippy, a fading echo of prog rock’s worst and most self-indulgent excesses.
Well, I disagree. I loved and still love Centipede Hz. It contains much sunshine and also a blast of darkness, there are tracks that almost (but never quite) conform to traditional song structure, and it is so tightly balanced and controlled that it often hums with a subconscious menace. Everything in the Animal Collective world was just a little off kilter – a wormhole into an alternative reality.
Painting With takes this further. The real world has grown darker and more demon splintered in the four years since the last album. Now Animal Collective are pushing the limits of the sunshine – as if they want to counterbalance the violent mess of the media possessed society with a heightened hopefulness. They have ramped up the jollity, the fun, because, well, we need it. Sometimes this results in a slab of silliness and sometimes a high-pitched prayer of pure energy. You don’t listen to Animal Collective for their immediacy but for the lingering psalmic mix of praise and lament, the hope that overcomes despair again and again and again.