Album Review: Animal Collective’s “Painting With”

Last Friday, Feb. 19, the highly anticipated new Animal Collective album was released. Despite generally being much fonder of albums from the middle of their career, such as “Strawberry Jam” and “Feels,” and some of their early works, I was very excited for “Painting With.” My excitement only grew after hearing some of the singles and learning John Cale—famous for founding and playing with the Velvet Underground—and virtuosic saxophonist Colin Stetson contributed to it.

After listening to the whole album straight down and several times more, I was happy with it, but not blown away. It certainly had a good amount of Animal Collective craziness, but there was no doubt it was polished and toned down this time. It was almost as if they had decided to make their version of a warped pop album.

While this approach definitely catered to some fans more than others, I did miss the unhinged wackiness and intensity they seem to have been losing over time. However, the album is definitely fun to listen to, and they did a fantastic job of tailoring their music to be more accessible than the song “Grass” from the album “Feels” or the bulk of their first few albums.

While the overall production and composition is a lot tighter than normal, the consistency of the vocals is what drew me in the most. No matter how their music is—whether it is somber, hectic, bittersweet, anything—their vocals never cease to be a driving force that commands attention and really captures the essence of the band. It is an element unique to the band and is a main focus on pretty much all of their albums.

The vocals on this album really keep me thinking as highly of the album as I do, even if I do not resonate with the musical elements as much. Bubbly, charismatic and even a bit chaotic, Panda Bear and Avey Tare’s voices do not blend on “Painting With” but rather bounce and cascade off each other in an impressive manner. While other elements add to the excitement of listening to the album, the vocals, in my opinion, are the main attraction and do an outstanding job of not only providing lyrics and melody, but also rhythm, texture and a general mood from song to song.

It is funny how listening to an album on loop can force you to like it a lot more than when you started. As I finish this article and listen for the tenth time, I have decided it is an album that promises an interesting path for Animal Collective and that it is pure fun. With some of their other albums, there are certainly moments of sadness, negative chaos and the like, but this album is, for the most part, a light-hearted and engaging listening experience.

For those not familiar with Animal Collective, I would not suggest this as a first listen, but for fans, this is a nice palate cleanser. Complex—but not begging for close listening every time—and entertaining, “Painting With” is a nice break from their much more outwardly emotionally intense releases.