I used to love Animal Collective, guys. Deeply, passionately, without shame. In middle school, Strawberry Jam was a damn revelation as to what music could be. Songs like “Winter Wonderland”, “Fireworks”, and “For Reverend Green” (especially “For Reverend Green”) blew my pubescent mind. I worshipped Avey Tare like a god. They weren’t perfect, but they never settled. I still revisit that album and many of their other albums on a regular basis, but Merriweather Post Pavillion abandoned experimentation for indie pop (good indie pop, mind you), and Centipede Hz was a misstep born of creative overcompensation. I was hoping for a return to form quality with Painting With, and singles “FloriDada” and “Golden Gal” hinted at that potential. I’m sorry to say that potential’s left unfulfilled.
When the group called this their “Ramones album”, I was excited. I assumed this meant a shortening of song length, a greater focus on tight songwriting, and a concentration on fun. What they really meant was repetition.
Painting With contains a handful of songs that are good on their own (“FloriDada”, “The Burglars”, “Bagels In Kiev”, “Golden Gal”), but as an album, it’s a chore to get through. Every song uses the same vocal delay trick, every song features the same synth sounds that actually sound like farts and/or belches, and nearly every song manages to drift off somewhere that makes little to no sense. Animal Collective seems to be struggling with finding an effective middle ground for their production to live, and here they continue to struggle, overcompensating once more, in the opposite direction of Centipede Hz. The whole thing just sounds abnormally plastic, synthetic, and fake, which is such a weird thing for me to say about AC.
Of particular note is that Panda Bear’s songs are the greatest offenders. He was the first to achieve real success solo, and was likely the primary force behind MPP, but his schtick is wearing thin. I think he has far too much influence at this point and that AC needs both Avey and Deakin to keep Panda from dulling the group down.
Deakin recently released a great solo album that indicates that he’s still got plenty of sonic adventure left in him. I think we might be able to hear greatness again from AC, but it’ll require everyone, and their dedication to rediscovering what made them special in the first place: a pioneer’s spirit. Until then, we have this.
This ain’t cutting it.
One of the better tracks from Painting With, “Golden Gal”:
A reminder of better days. “Fireworks” from Strawberry Jam: