Fifteen years ago, the members of experimental pop group Animal Collective were working mundane desk jobs in New York City. Following their decision to pursue careers in music, David Portner, Noah Lennox and Brian Weitz — better known by their stage names Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist, respectively — have since released nine critically acclaimed studio albums, unveiling their 10th, titled “Painting With,” last Friday.
The four-year interim following the release of their last album, 2012’s “Centipede Hz,” saw Portner and Lennox working on solo projects, while Weitz spent time with his child. A definitive maturity shines through in “Centipede Hz,” one that marks a departure from their uniquely innovative past work in favor of a safer and blatantly unoriginal approach.
The album features a complexity exceeding that of Animal Collective’s most well-known effort to date, 2009’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” which was highly praised for its original and progressive ideas including the intentional incorporation of dissonance, often obscuring the lyrics without fear of losing the listener. “Painting With” not only packs each song from end to end with vocals influenced by Dadaism, but also omits the unique flourishes that characterized its 2009 work.
“Painting With” is unsubtly pervaded by the theme of Dadaism, an early 20th-century art form that arose from the discontent in the world following World War I, mocking the ideologies of materialism and nationalism. The first song, unsubtly named “FloriDada,” is an example of this influence. Feelings of anti-materialism permeate the album, and numerous songs like “Hocus Pocus” and “On Delay” invoke the nonsensical attitude of Dadaism, delivering songs lacking any discernible meaning. The group entreats listeners to be honest with themselves and to avoid self-deception as Avey Tare and Panda Bear sing on “Lying in the Grass”: “It’s a gut that feels all things unknown / And a ring within the brain, you know / Not ashamed to say the instinct’s there / But a virtue to deny the bait.”
While the album clearly takes a different path than its predecessors, its most striking feature is the band’s clear lack of confidence on this record. The tracks are overburdened with superfluous elements, as if in fear of losing the listener’s attention. “Painting With” contains so many similar songs that the majority of the album is sonically indistinguishable. Indeed, nearly every song features the singers alternating line by line or even syllable by syllable. The result is annoying moments like the beginning of “Hocus Pocus.” In this manner, the consistency of the album becomes its greatest weakness.
Regardless, the project’s interesting subtleties make it a fun and enjoyable listen. The positive tone adopted by the singers belies the despairing themes of societal problems and marks a thoughtful contrast. Songs that disrupt the structure of the album create sonically memorable moments. “Vertical” starts with a distorted verse and repeats the word “vertical” in a manner that illustrates the pressure financial success has on the average man. “Golden Gal” starts with a sample from the titular television show and criticizes the social constructs to which women fall prey despite the progression that has occurred in society.
“Painting With” offers an interesting departure from Animal Collective’s discography. The heavy-handed inclusion of Dadaist concepts shapes the theme and sonic elements of the album. Meanwhile, the glorification of psychedelic drugs, a trademark of the group’s previous work, is far from forgotten. For a fan of Animal Collective, this album showcases the fun the group had creating the project and represents the group’s continued reinvention and evolution. Others who enjoy experimental pop or groups like Vampire Weekend may be better off checking out just the singles “FloriDada” and “Golden Gal”.