Animal Collective paints with broad, pop strokes on latest album

Caragh McErlean/Staff

Animal Collective albums never hand you their appeal on a silver platter. Some past projects, such as Sung Tongs and Strawberry Jam, are assertive and dense, beautifully brash in their own way. Others are much more ethereal and distant, soaked in spacey reverberating synths that underscore crooning vocals. Merriweather Post Pavilion, widely considered their poppiest and most accessible release at the time, assumes this more minimalist and protracted aesthetic.

This eclectic and influential discography, which reaches back more than 15 years, received its tenth installment Friday, Painting With. This new album marks the group’s first release since 2012’s critically polarizing Centipede Hz.

Painting abandons Animal Collective’s previous tendencies and leans on a more recognizable pop genre framework. Fittingly, the entirety of the record was recorded in Studio 3 of EastWest Studios in Hollywood — the same room in which Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote and recorded the monumental 1966 album Pet Sounds. The Beach Boys’ psychedelic pop influence on Animal Collective’s style has always been present with the emphasis on vocal harmonies. The influence is clearly much stronger, almost a distorted homage to the pop superstars, on Painting.

While the architectures of the songs are familiar, the sound is tilted slightly off-kilter. They ensure that no sound is ever too familiar. No one song is predictable. Layered and slightly delayed vocals collide with tropical percussions in moments of beautiful crescendo on tracks such as “Lying in the Grass.” The upbeat, dance-worthy rhythms of “On Delay” are punctuated with longer, drawn-out choral sections. Any sound that presents itself as tangible is quickly distorted and submerged, only to reappear later in the most surprisingly perfect way.

The lighthearted and infectious lead single “FloriDada” quickly became a breath of new life into the group’s image, showing that they refuse to be typecasted into the stagnating motif of wailing repetition. “Vertical” and “Hocus Pocus” incorporate classical squelching synth notes and characteristic weaving vocal sounds, using the voice as its own percussion instrument. Even more cryptic moments on the record, such as “Recycling,” will prove to scratch a musical itch in your brain that you never even knew you had.

Some moments on the record occasionally fall flat, which is only fair considering the ambitious style. “Natural Selection” and “The Burglars” become too busy for their own good. The same stylistic elements are present, but these songs tend to ramble on without the satisfying culminations of most other songs on the record.

Animal Collective has run the traditional pop style through a psychedelic and distorted prism, and only a few songs fail to translate. What does come out the other end is pleasantly unsettling, gorgeously human and dripping with emotion. 

Contact Charlie Tidmarsh at [email protected].