Animal Collective’s ‘Painting With’ Baffles The Mind (ALBUM REVIEW)

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animal-collective-painting-with-754It’s hard to imagine a band more divisive than Animal Collective, a wonky group of guys who straddle the line between stunt and seriousness. But no matter what you think of them, they really don’t sound like anyone else, and even if the way they do sound is not for you, it is difficult to avoid the intrigue that comes when you hear them. On their latest record Painting With, they play with sound to the point of complete experimental self-indulgence. The arrangements listen like a bad acid trip at their worst, and at their best, like a manic fun house soundtrack. No doubt, going to an Animal Collective show must be an uninhibited experience of pure, wild, primitive freedom.

Painting With is a carefully controlled mess, and rather than a kumbaya, au naturale drum circle feel, the sound created here is more like a deeply complex piece of machinery. It clicks and ticks and kerplunks and whistles and toots and squeaks, among other things. With their isolated harmonies laid on top (or underneath – it’s hard to tell), songs like “Lying in the Grass” and “Vertical” are baffling headaches that meander and do nothing but serve to make you wonder how soon they’re going to end.

Where in the past, the band’s vocal harmonies could stand out as beautiful and powerful, on Painting With, they just blend in with the robotic mess of all the other sounds and effects. They function as their own mechanical set of gears to turn up, down or sideways, and any sense that you’re listening to actual people singing is stripped away. Some songs less so than others, for instance “Golden Gal” operates almost as if it has a chorus, and “On Delay”, though redundant, has occasional warmth. The album is at its best, though, when the vocals disappear almost entirely, such as on the (somewhat) pretty “Recycling”.

Still though, it becomes difficult to dismiss Animal Collective entirely, as Painting With is so intricate and craftily put together, like a weird abstract art project, that it ultimately falls to the listener how to tolerate it, or not. To many ears, the chaos of “The Burglars” and “FloriDada” (one of the only tracks that invokes any sense of joy) will just be stressful and sound like a mess. But others may hear something else buried deep in the vast layers that make up these songs. And given their ability to sell out shows, it’s clear that there are plenty of pleased ears. Painting With will either leave you fascinated and curious to hear more, or it will leave you wondering how fast you can turn it off and make it go away.

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