By Jason Herring, March 8 2016 —
Animal Collective has been a divisive band since the release of their breakout record over a decade ago. The Baltimore group refuses to settle on a single genre, jumping between psychedelic pop, electronica and avant-garde folk. The erratic shifts in style often result in unfocused tracks, but the band’s playful, childlike energy saves them.
Painting With, Animal Collective’s latest effort, keeps with the band’s exploration of varied genres, but loses the charm that defines their past work. Most of the album’s tracks feature layers of vocal harmonies overtop spinning synthesizer backdrops. The combination works occasionally, but the result is almost sickening for most of the album. With so much going on, Painting With often feels overwhelming.
The main culprit of the album’s cluttered sound is the high-pitched and frequent vocal harmonies. Songs like “The Burglars” and “Natural Selection” border on unlistenable because of this suffocating technique.
Though Painting With feels busy, it’s Animal Collective’s least ambitious effort to date. The song structures are simple and poppy with no extended instrumental segments. But the record’s hectic instrumentation makes it hard to appreciate the music’s simplicity. “Lying in the Grass” is a prime example of this, with a great beat and wonderful saxophone work by Colin Stetson bogged down in pulsing synths.
There are some bright spots on Painting With. Opener “FloriDada” recaptures the group’s old magic in a joyously nonsensical track. The comparatively low-key “Bagels in Kiev” explores the difficulties of having family who live in war-torn countries, and “Golden Gal” is a breath of fresh air late in the album, offering a song that’s catchy for all the right reasons.
But these few decent tracks aren’t worth the literal headaches caused by the rest of Painting With. By the time the album draws to a close with the nauseating “Recycling,” I’m just happy it’s over so I can take my headphones off and go outside.