In the indie internet music community, few acts are as big as Animal Collective, the psychedelic pop group out of Baltimore. However, ever since the admittedly lackluster “Centipede Hz,” from 2012, that community has kind of turned on them and written them off for one subpar album. Before 2012, loving AnCo was a badge of honor, as albums like “Sung Tongs,” “Feels,” “Strawberry Jam,” and the decade closing masterpiece “Merriweather Post Pavilion” were nearly universally loved. But again, because of one bad album, listeners have written them off and now they’re not “cool” to like anymore. Many reviews for this album have barely even talked about the music, only about how the band isn’t “in.” But fuck that. “Merriweather Post Pavilion” is easily one of my favorite albums ever, and the preceding three records in their discography have also stuck with me for a long time. I think Animal Collective is an absolutely brilliant band capable of turning complete strangeness into pop bliss. If that makes me an entry level Pitchfork drone, whatever. I’ll always love this band.
But is the album any good? Eh.
It’s definitely not bad, and it’s definitely an improvement on their last effort. Whereas “Centipede Hz” was a lot of sound effects and stabs at being psychedelic, “Painting With” digs back a few years and is much more upfront and poppy. The opener and lead single “Floridada” is the perfect example of that. As one of my favorite singles from last year, this track is still a high point for their career. It’s infectiously catchy, fun, positive, and memorable, both in the eternal hook, the fantastic bridge that’s literally about a bridge, and the fast-talking verses. Another great song is the goofy “The Burglars,” which sounds like the title sequence for a sitcom about a group of burglars, complete with shots of them driving at high speeds down highways. (Weird I know, but listen to the song and that fits perfectly.) Like “Floridada,” it’s catchy and fun, and I particularly love Panda Bear’s impressive singing on the end of the track.
And that about does it for great songs on this album. Other single “Golden Gal” is nice, if only for the descending vocal line that closes the song. It would be great if it didn’t overstay its welcome so much. Another pretty good song is “Bagels in Kiev,” if only for the great melodic idea that presents itself around the 1:14 second mark. But aside from these tracks, and the somewhat catchy “On Delay,” “Painting With” doesn’t offer much to dig into.
It’s clear that they tried to be more poppy here and call back to albums like “Strawberry Jam” and “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” but the fact of the matter here is that a lot of the melodies and hooks just don’t stick. You can’t make a pop album that doesn’t feature a lot of catchy moments, but AnCo did exactly that here. The bubbly synths and effects are here of course, but it’s not like they save songs like “Lying in the Grass” and “Summing the Wretch.” Nothing here is bad, but the lack of great hooks and all around interesting ideas make things, well, kind of uninteresting. A lot of it goes in one ear and out the other, which is one of the last things I’d expect to say about an Animal Collective album.
Standout Tracks: “Floridada” “The Burglars”