Last week, rumors began shooting across the Internet that Animal Collective was streaming a new album, for a matter of hours, at the Baltimore-Washington Airport. On one hand, the news caught us all off-guard; there had been no new single, no other teaser, only radio silence. But at the same time, the decision to stream what would soon be announced as Painting With made perfect sense. In keeping with the group’s mission statement, the whimsical event located the exhilarating point where the playful and the weird join forces.
So, before we, the unfortunate masses that weren’t headed to good ole’ BWI airport last Wednesday get a chance to hear the new album (excluding single “FloriDada, now available for your listening pleasure) let’s take a look back at a band that has never ceased to blur the line between the silly and the serious, being childlike and forward thinking, and the 12 songs that do it best.
A slow-burning composition colored in hazy pastels, “No More Runnin’”wholly captures the sluggish, swampy feel of its title. Wedged in between two break-neck tracks on Side B of MPP, it offers a breath, a sense of calm, a moment of reflection, before the band turns the electric chair back on with closing track “Brother Sport.”
This song definitely wins the award for “Animal Collective song most likely to be used as a hip-hop sample.” From their debut LP, “Chocolate Girl” mesmerizes with a dazzling array of textures that soothe while keeping us on our toes. It’s basically that Bob Marley energy drink in a song.
This quintessential Animal Collective song will probably be the one that our kids will remember. Incidentally, it’s about having kids, too. The chiming, antsy bleeps in the intro are instantly recognizable, Panda Bear sings one of his most memorable melodies to date and the drums build to a climax that makes “My Girls” a straight-up party track. Cue the confetti.
“I ate a mango, and I’m feeling like a little honey could roll,” goes the opening line to this sticky sweet standout track from the group’s last studio LP. A jumble of hooks and plinky major-key keyboards, “Applesauce” comes off as loose and light, even as its lyrics touch on mortality and our eventual corporal decomposition (alongside the apples that you forgot to take out of the fruit drawer).
Once upon a time (like, 10 years ago), Animal Collective made an EP with the godmother of freak-folk herself, Vashti Bunyan. The title track is a fairy tale of an adventure, anchored by an acoustic guitar figured bouncing off of a looped a cappella mumble. While lyrics like “heaven is all around me” are sure to inspire deep existential musing, it’s the wordless “whoa” in the chorus that really tugs at your heartstrings.
Is it the sound of Styrofoam being torched? A racecar starting up? “Leaf House” captures a band that knows just how to manipulate weird, hard-to-place sounds into impressionistic beauty. Trimmed of fat and excessive layers, “Leaf House” stands out against the group’s sweeping, overwhelming soundscapes with its sharp percussion and manipulated vocals.
This tune is a dead-on description of summer nights in New York City—the stifling heat inside, and the adventure waiting right outside the door. “When the sun goes down we’ll go out again,” goes the bridge, slurred together into one word. Find a friend, and embrace the possibilities of whatever the night holds.
This song operates in two opposite halves. The first is dreamy, spacey, ungrounded and ungrounded. But then we hear a strange voice; no, it’s not Avey Tare, it’s not Panda Bear, it’s not even Fred Durst. It’s Jerry Garcia. In its second movement, “What Would I Want? Sky” picks up a sample of the Dead’s “Unbroken Chain,” spinning it into a slippery and mesmerizing hook. “I should be floating,” Avey Tare states, almost rapping, “but I’m weighted by thinking.” Like the best of AnCo’s output, this song lets us do both.
Between delightfully-incoherent imagery of monsters, dinosaur wings and “pelicans at red tide,” Tare crafts a cautionary tale of embracing the present and not getting buried in (and by) the past. Starting with squelching blasts of thudding drums and distorted sound, “Peacebone” culminates in Tare’s wordless, vicious scream—the kind that spooks little kids, before they suddenly crack into huge grins. “Peacebone” finds the point of intersection between melancholy, whimsy and blistering rock in the weird way that only Animal Collective can pull off.
Beginning with the sound of water running and shimmers of guitar and synth, “Grass” captures a high point of Animal Collective’s playful side, concocting images that bring us all back to our first love, mixed into a jungle of pounded toms and soaring chirps. And with its fist-pumping “Pow! Now” chorus, “Grass” totally fits on your workout playlist, too.
Chunky, churning “For Reverend Green” (for Al Green?) builds slowly from a guitar-driven stew of fuzz to a silly vocal hook that sounds lifted straight from Pet Sounds. It’s Tare’s scathing howl, however, that steals the show, interspersed through the verses and the song’s mantra-like climax. It’s a wonder he ever found his vocal cords again.
1. “Brother Sport,” Merriweather Post Pavilion
One of Animal Collective’s most exhilarating live tracks, “Brother Sport” flies by in a gallop of chants and bouncy keyboards before dissolving into an instrumental bridge that captures everything they do best—from immaculately constructed percussion to nuanced synths—into a hypnotic cyclone of sound. “Brother Sport” eventually comes back around to a verse, but calling it a separate section of the song is a bit pointless; it’s merely another wave of bliss.