Animal Collective – Painting With
Released February 19th, 2016 on Domino Records
In the 2000s Animal Collective were the experimental pop band, combining lysergic child-like visions with a wide sonic pallete that drew as much from hip hop and electronic music as it did from their sunny 1960s pop forbears. In the beginning they were inaccessible, the sort of thing that only underground freaks would listen to. Starting with Feels in 2005 they got onto the radar of the booming internet-driven indie-blog world; 2007’s Strawberry Jam upped the ante but it was 2009’s pop-laden Merriweather Post Pavilion that introduced them to a much wider audience. Merriweather Post Pavilion ditched the bizarre noise-cycles that were present even two years previous in favour of big pop, sing-along moments made for indie radio, a concept that would only become a concrete thing in the years that followed. They followed this up with a messy, jittery, hyperkinetic album (Centipede Hz) that divided their fanbase and was nowhere near as well-received as their previous albums.
Painting With, then, becomes the indicator for the direction that the band is going in. That direction is clearly mainstream pop acceptance at the expense of everything that made the group so vital and alive just ten years ago. What’s presented on this album is a muted Animal Collective, reliant on using big burbling synth notes, as though they were making either straightforward hip hop or EDM within their existing milieu. Much of it feels as though they sat down and decided to make an even more accessible Merriweather Post Pavilion, something that would sound great in dorm rooms or stadiums and less so in the bedrooms of the freaks of the nation. It feels deliberate and mercenary, two things you could never previously accuse the band of being. Part of it is likely the wider success of Noah Lennox’s Panda Bear project; part of it is likely the sharply divided response to Centipede Hz. The group took a risk on that album and it didn’t pay off, and so it feels on Painting With that the band has decided never to take such a risk again. Painting With, then, is the sound of Animal Collective playing it safe, and as such it’s a real downer.
Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper
The last major outing for Noah Lennox – Animal Collective’s Centipede Hz – was a rather disappointing album. The stakes, therefore, were pretty high for this new Panda Bear album. Would Mr. Lennox find his footing again, or would it turn out to be another case of diminishing returns from a once-hot artist who managed to change the rules for a brief, shining period in the Oughts? Spoiler alert: it’s the former.
Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper returns to the same sort of sounds that made Person Pitch such a delight. Unlike his last Panda Bear album, 2011’s Tomboy, it eschews a stripped-down focus on guitars and drums and returns to the sampler and the synthesizer. It’s electronic pop with a severely experimental bent, like Caribou took a lot of acid and played Pet Sounds with abandon. That last bit is maybe a bit more of a red herring this time around; while Lennox’s vocals on Person Pitch were strongly influenced by the Beach Boys, his work over the last eight years has made those sounds his own, and so now they sound less like the Beach Boys, and more like Panda Bear in its own right. The songs don’t cloak themselves in studio weirdness like on Centipede Hz, where all of Animal Collective’s tricks served to distract rather than enthrall. Instead, they get right to the point and stay there, allowing the weirdness to enhance your quality of life. There’s a bouyancy on these songs that cannot be denied, a quality that’s easy to spot on the singles “Mr. Noah” and “Latin Boys” but is also present on the slower, sadder tracks “Tropic of Cancer” and “Lonely Wanderer”. They’re cloudy songs with hope, and while they break up the joyousness a bit, the overall effect of the album leaves you feeling cleaner and happier than you were when you went into it.