Animal Collective’s first album since 2012’s Centipede Hz, Painting With, reflects the changes that have happened to the band over the past four years. They all live in different parts of the world, and have been individually recording and releasing their own music separately for some time now. Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), for example, now lives in Lisbon, Portugal, and recently released the excellent Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper last year, which made Freshly Squeezed’s list of the 20 Best Albums of 2015. In 2013, Avey Tare and his band Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks released Enter the Slasher House in a similar vein, although Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper was undoubtedly the better record.
On Painting With, they’ve come together again to create a characteristically artsy record that challenges musical conventions so much that it can often feel like a high-brow art assault. However, there are some stand-outs that are equally catchy and appealing. The opening track and pre-album single “FloriDada” is bright and sunny, evoking both the Sunshine State and the Dada art movement in its blocky, broken style. “Lying in the Grass” is equally bizarre and catchy, tipping its head to bands like Unknown Mortal Orchestra while retaining Animal Collective’s brave and varied use of electronics.
There’s not a whole lot else here to grab onto, though. By the time you get to “Bagels in Kiev” the album has become almost unlistenable, and single “Golden Gal” doesn’t do enough to redeem it at the end. Perhaps Animal Collective have simply gone too far with Painting With, and the result is too bizarre to be successful. However, it is still clear that they are masters of electronic beeps and boops, while remaining one of the most consistently experimental indie-rock bands of the past decade. On Painting With, the accessible songwriting of their best work on Merriweather Post Pavillion just isn’t quite there.