Animal Collective have always been at their best when their music is at its most accessible. The quality of Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion emanates from the expertly measured blend of pop and oddball quirks, like the steam from a psychedelic mushroom soup. “FloriDada” met every aspect of this criteria, and raised my expectations exponentially. The harmonised vocals and surf pop euphoria captured whatever ethereal magic The Beach Boys left behind after Pet Sounds was created. Unfortunately the following single from Painting With, “Lying in the Grass”, was tedious and lacking in both exhilarating pop appeal or eccentricity of any kind, and my expectations levelled out.
Upon listening to the album in full, I found a disappointing number of tracks had adopted the same kind of banal sluggishness of “Lying in the Grass”, in particular “Hocus Pocus”, which may well have sampled the former’s instrumental composition entirely, given how interchangeable they are.
“The Burglars” is a welcome shift in tempo, with Noah Lennox’s percussion patterns adding a thrilling drive to the instrumental. “Natural Selection” is easily the highlight of the album, drenched in the kind of oddball pop sensibility that Stephen Merritt would be proud of, and an instantly memorable chord progression.
“Bagels in Kiev” generally steers the album in a more ambient direction, and is all the more melodically rewarding for it. The lyrical references to Kiev and biblical allegory leave the song sounding more like a rejected Vampire Weekend b-side however, and in all it suffers from the same kind of dreariness as much of the rest of the album.
The distorted synth bassline and swift drum machines make “On Delay” an enjoyable respite from the general tedium of the surrounding songs, and “Golden Gal” is a genuinely touching and ear worming love song.
For the most part, “Painting With” is disappointing, at least in terms of accessibility. There are a couple of gems on here however, and “Golden Gal”, “FloriDada” and “Natural Selection” are fantastic songs. But the general sparseness of the mostly synthetic instrumentals results in a shallowness that hangs over the album. I can only recommend you stream the singles from this album.