With every release, Animal Collective face a problem. While some people may drop in and out of the Talking Heads or Spoon discography, the band have wedged themselves into a stylistic niche that can only ever appeal itself towards the converted. Thus any review of a new album is an exercise in futility. If you like them, you already bought Painting With. If not, you may have already gone back to the front page. For the rest of us, let’s continue.
Vocalists Noah Lennox and Dave Porter continue to splice their reverbed vocals on top of each other, which should be disorientating, but it is to their eternal credit that this never feels like a gimmick, and both are disciplined enough in their performances that it sounds consistent throughout the twelve tracks. The album itself is more than happy to grab you by the hand and drag you along a kaleidoscope of synths, samples and psychedelic sound manipulation.
From the opening ‘FloriDada’ (arguably their poppiest effort yet) to the trance-inducing rhythms of closer ‘Recycling’ the whole thing feels like listening to a Jackson Pollack painting. As a result, it is difficult to truly lock in with the album while keeping your head above the sea of sonic distractions. Don’t be surprised if you reach the end feeling like you left the party too early.
The genesis of the record is as eclectic as their sampling; inspired by the drum circles of stone age culture, the band then set up shop in the EastWest studios (which previously hosted the Beach Boys and Michael Jackson, among others). That said, the band has also claimed that this is their most ‘scripted’ album, with no live workshopping of tracks as was the case with past albums. Whether this has led to a loss of spontaneity is up to the listener. The previously discussed ‘FloriDada’ is a tight four minute calling card for the band while ‘Spilling Guts’ clocks in at just under 120 seconds, but leaves a mark with its joyous, thumping synth.
Overall this is just what we’ve come to expect from Animal Collective, which works both for and against its favour. Long term fans may be able to pick up nuances due to a change in production, but for the rest this is an album on which you’ll already made your mind up.