Psych-pop outfit Animal Collective released Painting With, their 11th studio album, on Friday. True to form, the LP is both sonically intricate and lush, and its mind-bending ambiance won't seem too unfamiliar to long-time fans of the band's off-kilter aesthetic. Early reviews seem to agree that though newcomers to the indie group may find the LP somewhat inaccessible at first listen, as perhaps has always been the case at times for Animal Collective, the band has not strayed from its history of expressionism in Painting With — it has built on it. The album, which consists of 12 tracks, is currently streaming on Spotify and is available for download on iTunes.
The band's recording process for Painting With was reportedly as immersive and enchantingly random as the finished product seems to be. The story, as it's told, is that the group projected images of dinosaurs onto the walls of EastWest Studios in Los Angeles during recording, and came to work equipped with candles and a kiddie pool.
"Well if you're out and about on the freeways this morning, no dinosaurs to worry about," a sound byte can be heard on the opening of the LP's second track, "Hocus Pocus," inviting everyone who's willing to get on board with the madness or jump ship.
"In terms of that primitive style and certain tribal rhythms, you could almost rewind to what people have said about us — or what we said about ourselves — 15 years ago," Brian Ross Weitz, aka Geologist, explained in a recent interview with Pitchfork. "Each formation of Animal Collective relates to itself in a different way. When the three of us started improvising together in our New York apartments in 2000, the music always had that stripped-down, primitive aspect to it rhythmically. It's sort of returning to how we related to each other a long time ago."
Reviews: The longevity of Animal Collective is a talking point among certain publications. In the Pitchfork review, for instance, which awarded the new album a 6.2 out of 10, music journalist Mike Powell points out that the band members have grown into their lives as parents and now live in separate cities. In that review, questions swirl about whether the album somehow signals a coming end to the prolific and longstanding act.
But to be fair, it isn't as if the band members devoted their full attention to Animal Collective during those years. Rather, they've explored side projects and collaborations that live apart.
Writing for A.V. Club, Kyle Fowle makes the argument that Painting With proves the band can show discipline when it comes to their particular brand of music making, and that the LP shows the outfit is capable of breaking down the barriers of inaccessibility on past works. Compared to the band's previous "bloated" LP, 2012's Centipede Hz, Fowle wrote that the "sometimes indulgent, unwieldy tangents of previous records are reined in here, which allows the band creative freedom by, somewhat contradictorily, restricting its vision." According to that review, the album deserves a B+ grade.
Elsewhere, Newsday's Glenn Gamboa awards the record a B, concluding that the band is "Still beat-crazy after all these years."
Whether or not Animal Collective has given us some kind of indication there's a looming conclusion to their stint together is anyone's guess. Yet as the controlled chaos of Painting With proves, the band has clearly honed its craft over the years and is no worse for wear after more than a decade. If the band can produce something that's more, not less, accessible despite distance and the distractions of adulthood, there's no telling what might be on deck.
Here's a Painting With stream and the album's track list:
Painting With track list:
2. "Hocus Pocus"
4. "Lying in the Grass"
5. "The Burglars"
6. "Natural Selection"
7. "Bagels in Kiev"
8. "On Delay"
9. "Spilling Guts"
10. "Summing the Wretch"
11. "Golden Gal"
7" track list:
A. "Gnip Gnop"
B. "Hounds of Bairro"