Since the beginning of the century, the always abstract Animal Collective has been traveling down a long road of wonderful creations. Unfortunately, its newest release, Painting With, takes them down a very wrong path.
Painting With begins with bright and fast synths paired with vocals repeating “Flo-flo-flo-rida,” in the song “FloriDada,” and I wish it didn’t. The vocals sound like they could be used in a toothpaste commercial, and every component in the song is repetitive and dry. Previously, Animal Collective has used repetition to great effect in their music. They were the epitome of the ambient drone, but the repeated notes in past albums seemed to create a rhythm that coincided your heartbeat. “FloriDada” sounds repetitive in an exhausting way and each song thereafter imitates the first, illuminating this unauthenticity.
The songs just travel through one ear and escape out the other because they lack personality. Each element in every song tries too hard to be recognized. They all wash each other out, creating a collective, irrelevant piece of almost nothing. None of them touch my heart like the 2005 album Feels, which had every single element strategically placed. Painting With’s elements felt carelessly thrown together.
There’s no evocation of any type of feeling until “Burglars” begins, and the feelings it does evoke aren’t exactly pleasant. “Burglars” follows the same strict, fast-paced sound as every other song off Painting With, but being the fifth song, it becomes irritating. Animal Collective mastered the strategy of atonality in their previous works, creating a sometimes life-altering experience with each listen. They allowed me to be high without getting high, which is why they were so rad. But “Burglars,” like every other song on Painting With, feels uncomfortable. The synths are too fast and the sound is too atonal. I feel my heartbeat increasing when I listen to it, and paranoia starts to creep over my shoulder.
“Burglars” thankfully ends and “Natural Selection” begins, and it sounds like Animal Collective is desperately trying to reach for their old style, but their arms are too short. The repetitions remain present and it feels played out. Animal Collective used to pull off this psychedelic ambient drone cross with originality, but Painting With sounds like a broken record.
The ninth track, “Spilling Guts,” sounds plastic compared to the reality of songs on previous albums. Most of these grievances can be blamed on the way the vocals are structured in Painting With. Generally, in the older albums by Animal Collective, the instrumentals were the main focus. Even in vocal-heavy albums like Strawberry Jam, the vocals held one purpose: to be a guide to keep you grounded through the music’s majestic experience.
Band member Noah Lennox once discussed the summer the band first tripped on LSD, saying, “everything since has been a variation of what we explored that summer,” and their experience became ours through their music. Their previous albums were personal, and each song was beautifully constructed with individuality. The atonality worked, and the vocals followed the tail end of each sound to create this avant-garde piece of art. Listening to them felt like a psychedelic trip, and Painting With is burnt-out.