Early in 2009 we were in love again. Not thank god with the Klub Footed swagger of indie landfill Britain, but once more smitten were we with dandys from across the Atlantic: we grooved especially to Vampire Weekend's preppy, Ivy League afro-beat of course, but we really adored the lysergic, Vitamin D soaked weirdness of MGMT, the monumental Kids and Electric Feel sound tracking party after party after Jack and Coke chilled night in.
No-one was really sure at that point about Animal Collective, the frequently splenetic quartet/trio who'd emerged at the beginning of the decade, mostly because their records frequently seemed more like in-joke installations than anything from within the dimension of the normal. These reservations were then washed away by the avalanche of good that was Merriweather Post Pavilion, the moment at which the band's music went from edgy curio to mainstream via an intersect with the record buying public's newly discovered love of higher-brow kitsch.
Merriweather.., particularly on its elegiac flagship song My Girls, propelled AC's notoriously obtuse members onto a stage with their supposed compatriots, but it was a relationship with the industry's gestalt mechanics which began to fray almost immediately. For MGMT this meant total submergence in their psychedelic narrative: for Noah Lennox, Brian Weitz and David Portner, this meant releasing various solo projects ranging in accessibility. The album's follow up, 2012's Centipede Hz, was a return to confoundment, sounding like a beehive of ideas set off to a thousand random notes, whilst Josh Dibb, having declared himself on hiatus in 2007, has remained to one side ever since, right up to Painting With's present.
It's not all working in the margins though - pseudonym bearing "Panda Bear" Portner played on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories and the group have played with messrs. Bangalter and Homem-Christo at the Guggenheim - but although Painting With lacks some of the buzz saw density of its predecessor, it's only a conventional noise when considered in the context of other Animal Collective albums. Some aspects are instantly familiar: one of their long-standing obsessions has been in vocal interplay, their voices intertwining around obtuse harmonics but then teetering on the brink of chaos. Opener Floridada is a case in point, breaking like Doo-Wop from the next decade, tribal but rickety, three songs in one..or one song in three. It's hard to tell.
This is almost certainly the point. Everything is sampled, processed and symphonically mangled, to the extent that the organic sensation of Lying In The Grass' piano seems like a over dub from another artist's canon, it's off key occasional skronk re-affirming their more than passing acquaintance to all things free and associative. Not for everyone then? Correct, but in fairness the weirdometer has never really been a suitable method by which to quantify AC's process, or appeal. To explain, Spilling Guts is a fog of peeling bells, spoiled frequencies and playground chanting, but this is their own version of conformity, a moment of cosmic inspiration you assume Brian Wilson had in those days of close to god-ness, even if he almost certainly won't be able to yogically reach it again.
If you accept the trio's reality - and you'll need to in order to get the most satisfaction possible from Painting With - everything becomes much more straightforward. In this mode the listener can filter out the white noise around Bagels In Kiev and see it for the unabashed synth pop it is, whilst Natural Selection is a splay footed, big chorus rawk apex that lies kidnapped and held to ransom by a software glitch. Once this process of being in sync is complete, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that on Vertical they've randomly or otherwise located the portal back to our time: whilst it doesn't have the rave overflow of My Girls, it's as straightforward as anything here gets and perhaps in spite of itself, a sequence of no little magic.
Like their past dalliances with the normal, the moments of clarity here are almost certainly lucid by roll of the dice: AC remain a band as spiritually diverse as the personalities of their members, nodes blinking on and off amongst the gloom of commercial music's long, slow death. Their imperviousness to people is something those who "Got" them in 2009 will cite as their biggest now failing: it might now be the single biggest factor in saving them from the unravelling desperation which surrounds them.
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