Review by Alexis Viera
Animal Collective is an institution—a society of innovators scouring their culture, its history, and the seemingly endless depths of their undying imaginations for anything to be transformed into an auditory experience. With the release of the group’s 10th studio album, Painting With, the core trio of Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist have hand-molded a record in a class of its own, sans label, since only such stitched-together fantasy language as “sociopsychofantastical,” or “anthropochromatomanic” really seem pertinent.
The album’s opening track, “FloriDada,” encompasses its holistic attitude, a nod to the artistic anarchist spirit of the Dadaist movement. Vocalist Avey Tare says the single was a response to “the negativity and separatist attitude” inherent in the deep social divide between regions of the United States. Thus the concept of togetherness embedded deep within the album’s spine emerges in the very first seconds.
Animal Collective’s mission with Painting With is to embrace art as a response to undesirable aspects of today’s culture. From “FloriDada” and its commentary on old money, privilege, and status, to “Natural Selection,” which claims our “path is written before the act,” down to the very last track on the album—itself titled, “Recycling”—which questions our lack of concern in regards to the Earth, the album is soaked in social commentary.
But “Bagels in Kiev,” while not the most notable track in terms of auditory pleasure, is the number with the most moving and chilling lyricism. The music, psychedelic as ever, adopts some eerie undertones as the vocalists almost rap an account of some of Tare’s fondest memories: his grandfather’s narration of life in Ukraine under the communist rule of the Soviet Union. The vocalists (aesthetically lacking the yearning that is presented in the lyrics) repeatedly chant, “I wasn’t there when Moses parted the sea / I wasn’t there with you grand-pop back in Kiev.” Drawing such a significant comparison, you could say Tare idealizes and yearns for a society like the one his grandfather depicts—a society where there are “bagels for everyone.”
Clearly, Animal Collective has something they want to say, and something they want to make sure is heard. Stylistically speaking, they have certainly succeeded in catching our attention, if nothing else. While the group has previously thrived off their perhaps childish, perhaps naïve sounds of freedom and bliss, Painting With manages to continue the tradition in a much tidier fashion, distinguishing it from the rest their discography.
Make no mistake, the group is far from a sophisticated ensemble. According to Pitchfork, they prepared for the album by “bringing baby pools into the studio and projecting dinosaurs on the wall.” In fact, “Hocus Pocus,” opens with a sound clip from a newscast saying, “Well if you’re out and about on the freeways this morning, no dinosaurs to worry about,” ironically placed between all the futuristic synthetic instrumentals of the Animal Collective sound.
To be sure, the group will certainly never lose their childish charm—it is the driving force that has established them in the music scene. It is what makes them unlike any other artist. The “tidy” nature of the album comes less from sophistication and structure than it does from a sense of completeness and precise fulfillment of each song. In an interview with Consequence of Sound, Panda Bear expressed the band’s desire to “do short songs — songs that felt primitive and crude,” and this is precisely the kind of album they created.
Despite the synthetic core of Animal Collective’s music, there’s something utterly human about it. It’s the idea that the chaos they create, the noise they stitch together, occurs naturally in all of us. That we have evolved from a much more primitive man who still exists if we dare tap into it. And if we take this to be true, we are all one (a giant cliché, but one nonetheless).
So the concept of togetherness, human likeness, and societal questioning, which can be found in the lyricism itself as well as the fluid braiding of Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s voices and even the album’s artwork, has been carefully and successfully transmitted to us through the Dadaist work of Animal Collective’s, Painting With.