New strokes on the same canvas

Animal Collective’s latest record “Painting With’ plays it safe.

Christian Davis, Writer

During last month’s epic Kanye West twitter meltdown, he made sure target Wiz Khalifa knew Kanye was his “original gangster.” When “Life of Pablo” came out, Kanye made sure to let people know his “OG” was Sean Combs — clarifying that Kanye was not an isolated genius, and prior artists paved the way for him. This got me thinking about how important Animal Collective has been to indie-rock for the past 17 years. Nearly every dreadful band I hear when I turn on 98.7 in my car attempts to channel them in some way or another, from the shimmeringly perfect electro-pop on “Merriweather Post Pavilion” or the percussive energy of “Strawberry Jam.” Animal Collective existed as indie-rock’s summery “OG” since the start, but their latest record “Painting With” finds them regurgitating the same sounds  — even if the sounds themselves remain as brilliant as ever.

Gauging Expectations

I found myself in somewhat of a tricky place. I was careful to gauge my expectations surrounding the new Animal Collective record. The first record the band had recorded together in four years sounded promising, but all this hinged on the somewhat stale taste their last record left in my mouth. “Centipede Hz” was a record everyone else seemed to connect to but me, as it did not hook me in the way a sprawling, dense Animal Collective record usually does.

Lead single from “Painting With,” “Floridada,” changed all of that. Suddenly the band felt invigorated, channeling the pop sensibilities that solidified “Merriweather Post Pavilion” as one of the best indie-rock records of the century into the filter of freak-folk that made “Feels” so great. The band fires on all cylinders on this track, and it is still something I continue to revisit.

Lazy Yet Infectiously Catchy

The rest of the record seems to rest on Animal Collective’s vocal gimmicks in a way that strikes me as almost lazy. If you have heard any of founding member Panda Bear’s brilliant “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper,” you recognize what I am referring to. The vocal harmonies on these tracks dip in and out of octaves consistently, sounding like a Beach Boy’s track garbled through a computer. Which, in a way, describes Animal Collective in a nutshell.

Like I said earlier, even if these harmonies sound repetitive, they are still infectiously catchy. I was lucky enough to be around for the release of “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” which fundamentally changed the way I looked at music. “Painting With” feels wholly more gimmicky compared with “Merriweather,” with tracks like “Summing the Wretch” refusing to break from these scattered vocal patterns for pretty much all of it. But a bad Animal Collective record is still leagues ahead of anyone else in the game. “Painting With” embodies the sound of indie-rock royalty resting on their laurels, playing it safe for one more round.

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