‘Painting With’ an enjoyable experiment in retrofuturism

Conor Battles, Editor-in-Chief, Arts & Entertainments Editor

It’s hard to propagate weirdness for nigh on twenty years, but Animal Collective continues to revel in their oddity.

The Baltimore trio-occasional-quartet released their tenth LP, Painting With, in February. David “Avey Tare” Portner, Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox and Brian “Geologist” Weitz take their inimitable, idiosyncratic blend of psychedelic pop and eclectic electronic noodling back in time, adding self-styled “Prehistoric” influences to their dense melodies and off-kilter rhythms. Indeed, it’s easy to picture the pounding, incessant beats that underpin Painting With emanating from some ancient, flame-licked powwow, or a tribal ceremony of human sacrifice.

Painting With is one of Animal Collective’s most accessible releases, with tracks like the sublime reggae-accented “Floridada” or the sitcom ode “Golden Gals” being among their most danceable and radio-friendly songs. That isn’t to say AnCo has lost their edge; Painting With remains singularly abstract and ofttimes inscrutable.

As manic and seemingly discordant as Painting With can feel at times, the care and tender consideration Animal Collective puts into every note of this album is palpable. Every random squiggle of synth, or every oddball sample that makes its way into the mix, is placed with the clear intent of supplementing the song in the best, most unexpected way. The amount of studio wizardry that makes Painting With tick (it is no coincidence that the album was primarily engineered and mastered in the same Los Angeles booth that Brian Wilson laid down Pet Sounds and Smile in) is staggering, but ultimately, it feels somewhat unlike the band that for so long dedicated themselves to doing things their way.

There has never been, and likely never will be, a band quite like Animal Collective. From the spirited psych-folk of Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished to the maximalist electro-pop of Merriweather Post Pavilion, few artists have made for themselves such a unique sound and style. On Painting With, the band feels less a cohesive, singular whole, more loose and at odds with what they’re playing. All three members of the group have put out stellar solo material in the handful of years since their last release, 2012’s polarizing Centipde Hz. Hearing the subtle hint of discordance on Painting With begs the question of if, after ten albums and close to twenty years of performing as Animal Collective, Portner, Lennox, and Weitz would be better off going their separate ways.

Despite these moments of apparent self-doubt or growing pains, Painting With is ultimately an enjoyable collection of Animal Collective at their not-quite-best: it’s still pretty good.