Album Review: Painting With

David Portner, the vocalist and guitarist behind Baltimore’s neo-psych heavyweights, Animal Collective, experiences synesthesia. With this neurological abnormality the cognitive pathways of two sensory centers are inexplicably intertwined. For Portner, this results in the involuntarily association of sound and visuals. It makes sense that the outfit he has piloted for the last fifteen years pay little heed to the established boundaries of time, space and temporality. Across their 10-album catalogue, Animal Collective have continually blurred the boundaries of concrete form: time signatures treated like mere signposts, lyrics swapped for moans, hollers, and screams, instrumentation neither melodic nor coherent. Following the unheralded success of 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and the relative disappointment of 2012’s Centipede Hz, the group has extended this penchant to a formalized extent. On November 25 of last year, an album played across the intercom of the Baltimore-Washington airport. Later that day, it was revealed that the album was Animal Collective’s 10th studio effort, playfully titled Painting With. The leading single, “Floridada,” followed five days later. While the track appears frolicsome and frenetic on an immediate, there is a revealing depth to its name. Tucked onto the tail of the Sunshine State, “Floridada” makes reference to the Dadaist art movement. Flowering in the dawnings of the First World War, Dadaism sought to counter nationalistic, colonial aggressions and to impose a creative anarchy. Through a variety of mediums, the participators erupted the expectations of their crafts, and further of art in its entirety. As cofounder Marcel Jurre proclaimed, “we began by shocking the bourgeois, demolishing his idea of art, attacking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order.” A century later, the lines were drawn for Animal Collective to follow suit.

Painting With stays true to Dadaism in multiple ways. While the twelve songs collected are of typical caliber, the arrangement and production suggest otherwise. Every element of production is dense to claustrophobic proportions. Hooks, fills and beat are strewn atop another like Hannah Hoch’s Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic. Hell, the album’s central feature is a beat-by-beat vocal trade-off between vocalists Avey Tare and Panda Bear, that ultimately sounds like a cross between a spit and a sputter. Why? Because they can. In this way, Painting With is like a proposal on the second date. It is like a bottle of exquisite champagne downed in one swig. It races where it could slow down and solve itself. It stacks upward while the greatest qualities lie at its naked core. And still there are moments of striking clarity. Standout tracks like “Bagels in Kiev” and “Golden Gals” momentarily exhibit the Collective’s knack for intriguing melody but are bogged down by their own weight. The album’s highlight, “Lying in the Grass,” excels in its relative spareness. Gimmicks are withheld as a tasteful saxophone forges its own space, offering a fleeting recess. If the entirety of the album followed a similar sensibility, it would certainly rank amongst Animal Collective’s most listenable. But this approach is reductive. To understand art, one must understand its intent. It is entirely plausible that Animal Collective, being in a comfortable stage in their career, sought to throw a curveball. Just listen to the Golden Girls sample at the beginning of Golden Gals, where Dorothy (I am always looking for excuses to flout my Golden Girls knowledge) says “no Blanche, she’s upset because they keep changing the taste of Cola.” This is precisely what Animal Collective does, they “change the taste of Cola,” though this time more drastically than ever. Yes, just like Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, the boys from Baltimore have made us reconsider exactly what it is that counts. They’re forcing us to consider what makes an Animal Collective album, and further, what makes an Animal Collective album good. These are indie darlings that are not content to set idly upon their praise. After Sung Tongs won our hearts, and Feels our ears, the band is in a position to piss their listeners off. Painting With does that. Call this apologism at its finest but Painting With is annoying; intentfully and cohesively. Sure, it’s neither as tasteful as a Monet, or as a pleasant as a Seuret but Painting With is a statement, and a damn fine one at that.

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