Animal Collective – The Painters EP

Animal Collective are one of my favorite bands out there.  I think that their four album run in the 2000s (04’s Sung Tongs, 05’s Feels, 07’s Strawberry Jam and 09’s Merriweather Post Pavillion) is one of the best four album runs in music history- no record sounds like another, each builds on its predecessor, any one could be somebody’s favorite and their songwriting skills continued to developing and expand but still impressed for new reasons each time.  One of the neatest things about an Animal Colletive LP, however, is the assurance that sometime in the next year, an accompanying 4 song EP will be released, featuring new music in the same vein as the LP, with the same sonic palette.  While the LP/EP were typically recorded in the same sessions, the songs on the EP critically did not arrive on the album, and thus are forced to be evaluated in a very different context.

Such is The Painters, which is the companion piece to last year’s Painting With LP.  I was originally bullish on Painting With, but I’ve found that the record didn’t hold a lot of replay value for me, and toward the end of the year, revisiting it made me realize how much it paled in comparison to the band’s other work.  (Unsurprisingly, this was the first AnCo album since their earliest days that had nearly no presence on year-end lists.)  I can say happily, though, that I prefer all four tracks of The Painters to everything but the highlights from Painting With.  The length, merely 14 minutes, helps this style of songwriting as well, which got a bit repetitive on the LP.

Hocketing, or singers trading off words or syllables, was a very strong sonic theme on Painting With and was deployed on almost every song.  I don’t think I’m alone in suggesting that it didn’t go over too well, both because it was jarring and somewhat off-putting, but also because it revoked a humanness to AnCo’s most synthetic music yet.  The lyrics themselves had also deviated from the emotional but fantastical storytelling of earlier releases and represented unchallenging concepts about inner-peace and unity and other hippie fare.  Hocketing returns on The Painters, but is dished out in much milder doses and feels less forced.

The record starts with “Kinda Bonkers” and sees something of a return to form for Avey Tare’s on vocals- his performance is weird, wild and unhinged.  I don’t love the lyrics here (“My head was exploding / I said “Man, this Earth is Really Bonkers”), and the tribal drums and bubbling-below-the-surface vibe are a little boring, but the song isn’t unpleasant.  “Peacemaker,” the only Panda Bear led track on the EP, finds a calm, swaying rhythm like a boat being gently rocked by a tide, and doesn’t try to do to many crazy musical gymnastics, which stands in contrast to the claustrophobia of Painting With.  “Goalkeeper” is a classic chaotic Avey song, almost sounding like it could have been on 2012’s Centipede Hz, and actually features some great Panda Bear harmonies and a Panda vocal performance that was sorely missed on Painting With.

The EP ends with a completely unexpected cover of the 1967 Motown hit “Jimmy Mack“.  Of course the track bears little resemblance to the original outside the lyrics and choral melody, but the exuberant flutes, uptempo bounce and a generally freewheeling attitude  (plus Panda doing those sweet sweet Motown harmonies) makes it probably the best song on the EP and proof that AnCo can still have fun.

On the whole, The Painters won’t blow anyone away, and those that were unimpressed with Painting With still have to patiently await the group’s next reinvention.  But I can say that I was pleasantly surprised, and I wish the band had captured more of this sound on the LP.

Score: 7/13

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