Animal Collective’s new effort sacrifices depth for fun

painting withSOME MIGHT say that Animal Collective hit their peak back in 2009 with Merriweather Post Pavillion, and things seemed to take a bit of a downturn in 2012 with Centipede Hz, which was considerably less critically acclaimed. However, last year the band released ‘FloriDada’, a quirky little number with a decent hook and an old-school Animal Collective feel. Things were looking up for Painting With.

But come the release, perhaps some of the most common criticisms of Painting With lie in the overall sound. Unlike their past releases, Painting With ditches many of the sound effects that Animal Collective have played with the past. This has some mixed results, with the group layering their vocals to create that trademark, harmonious sound. There are points where the group alternate syllables; yes you heard that right, syllables, not words. Even if you’re an Animal Collective fan, it has to be said there are points on this album where the pretention levels go through the roof.

These criticisms do hold some water, but that doesn’t make Painting With a bad album. I mean, there were times when you picture Panda Bear’s smug little face as he says every other syllable in ‘Vertical’ and you kind of want to punch it…. But if you don’t care about that and just want some decent music, Painting With might be for you. If you didn’t enjoy Animal Collective’s earlier material though, it seems very unlikely that you will like this album.

To the band’s credit, their use of vocal manipulation pays off for the most part on this record. While their trick of breaking up words grows somewhat stale, their harmonies are particularly lovely to listen to, something that was one of main selling points of the last Panda Bear solo record. It should be noted that sometimes it doesn’t go quite to plan, such as those stupid robotic vocals on ‘Hocus Pocus’ and ‘Vertical’. But tracks like ‘Lying in the Grass’ make up for this with their ghostly backing vocals.

Animal Collective’s chirpy, happy outlook is what really pushes these tracks forward. Take the track ‘The Burglars’, as an example of how florescent this music can get; the instrumentation on this song is like someone played an early Nintendo game while on an LSD high and a sugar rush. ‘FloriDada’ utilises this happiness to create this brilliant vocal hook which feels bouncy, fluid and incredibly catchy; it’s definitely one of the best songs on the album. What the songs lacks in over the top effects, it makes up for in sheer vocal appeal. Another standout track is ‘Golden Gal’, a track that uses some nice film samples and some lead vocals that are delightfully naive and cheerful. The percussion on this track adds some nice backing to compliment Animal Collective’s chants.

There aren’t really any tracks that wallow in any deeper emotions. When Animal Collective switched up their sound, the wallowing synthesizers of the past went, and the layered vocals aren’t used in a way that punches emotions into you. The closest Animal Collective get to this is in songs like ‘Bagels in Kiev’ which, if not an emotive tone, makes the closest thing to a ‘serious’ track on this record. Then closing track ‘Recycling’ goes from harsh noises to almost heavenly vocals near the end, which is a wonderful transition.

For the most part though, Painting With sounds like a record by a band that are established and are now just enjoying themselves. And with this comes a sense of fun that you’d have to be a hard-ass not to go along with, even if the emotional depth is pretty 2D. It’s not like Animal Collective has created a bad album that people are calling fun because it’s a saving grace. Aside from the unbearable ‘Spilling Guts’ and ‘Summing the Wretch’, every track on here is decent, bubbly and eager to impress. As its name suggests, Painting With is colourful, simplistic and will at least impress for the time being, even if it’s not Animal Collective’s masterpiece.

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