Animal Collective returns on The Painters — a companion EP to last year’s Painting With. The Painters is usual Animal Collective — experimental indie pop with energy, contrasted with introspection — but it’s unlikely to be a standout from their body of work.
Animal Collective’s history as a band oddly parallels their pleasantly disjointed sound. Having met in school, Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) and Avery Tare (David Portner) originally performed as a duo. With Josh Dibb (Deakin) and Brian Weltz (Geologist) joining in 2003, the collective was established. However, some of their best-known, groundbreaking works (like 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion) were recorded without Dibb.
Their style is influenced by psychedelia and can often sound like 1980s new wave, like Talking Heads. The band has since released Centipede Hz in 2012 and a few EPs. Whereas Merriweather Post Pavilion felt like Animal Collective was answering a musical higher call, The Painters lacks the same level of musical experimentation we’ve come to expect.
Animal Collective doesn’t abandon their post-modern synths, bops, and various noises that made them famous on Merriweather Post Pavilion and continued through Painting With; on The Painters, they embrace a more holistic sound.
The first track, “Kinda Bonkers”, opens with eastern-inspired throat singing, reminiscent of John Lennon on “I am the Walrus”. There is an invocation of a rich jungle, with a bass synth that sounds like a croaking frog. The repetition of “unity of all kind” at the end of the song gives it a meditative feel, a mantra for a utopian dream.
Although the opening and closing tracks present a rich audio landscape, the two middle tracks get lost in generic electronic synths without much depth. Vocals on “Peacemaker” take on an enjambed rhythm as Panda Bear and Avery Tare exchange singing every other word. The song has a quieter tone, but it verges into the monotonous. It uses their signature droning synths and vocal harmonies, but without much else, the song remains forgettable.
“Goalkeeper” brings back the croaking frog synths heard on “Kinda Bonkers”. More vocal switches between makes this track close to “Peacemaker”, but with the energy typical of tracks on Painting With, like “Floridada”. However, the vocal harmonizing and noise-pop degenerates into a collection of sound without much direction or staying power.
Another standout to close out the album is “Jimmy Mack” — a cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ 1967 Motown classic. With pixelated synths to open the track, the song feels like an update for the 21st century. Warped vocals, buzzing synths, and beats that almost resemble steel drums give the song a candy-coated, manic, tropical feel. It’s like a musically elevated version of the Mario Kart soundtrack.
With the high expectations that Animal Collective regularly sets for itself, The Painters EP is not a definitive piece in their body of work, but nevertheless demonstrates a diversity of sounds and experimentation.