Animal Collective Painting With

[Domino; 2016]

Styles: psych pop
Others: Panda Bear, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, The Flaming Lips

A long time ago, you and I were children. When I was a child, I found a music that seemed to speak to me directly, and as a child does, I allowed my ego to luxuriate in the fantasy that I was this music’s ideal listener; or rather, that we were, because most of my closest friends held on to this music as tightly as I did (it was ours, even if I was the one who loved the music first, even though I was the one who showed it to them originally). This music came to soundtrack crucial moments in our lives. The first time I really heard it, after many listens, was also my first major psychedelic experience, and the world seemed to breathe it in and out, bearing me aloft on its strange and beautiful currents. I didn’t have to go to college, but there I was, actualizing my existence in a way that I barely understood but finally affirmed in its fullness. The day I moved into perhaps the most important living situation of my young adult life, my new housemate was playing a copy of the next album that I had been anticipating for months; it had leaked that morning, and the adrenaline that always follows such synchronicity filled me with positive energy as I unpacked my things, noticing the subtle differences between the album and the live shows. Later, I [gulp] lost my virginity with it playing in the background.

I’d go back and discover older forms of this music, aligning it with great sadnesses and joys in my own history: dying pets, childhood imaginings, teenage anxiety, and the confidence that won against it. I’d stay up late nights for live recordings, rarities, and leaks of new forms of this beloved music, and I remember a particular Independence Day when the first sounds of the next major release hit my ears. At some point, I met a wonderful, fleeting partner (now married with a child on the way) who shared my love of this music, and when we saw them live together, they intertwined both of our favorite songs into a single, transcendent work; it was inexplicably perfect in ways that even my adolescent romantic fantasies could barely imagine. Later, when I was a broke and directionless castoff wandering the abyss of the recession, this music lifted me up from desperation, feeding me while my alma mater squeezed my pockets and I struggled to produce any writing of value. With my heat cut off in the Chicago winter, a proper house is all I wanted.

This is all exceedingly precious, I know; but my heart swells even now as I relate it, because my memories are bursting with experiences soundtracked by these works, and I can’t help but confess my decade-plus-long connection to this music and its effect on me.

But by Merriweather Post Pavilion, I was essentially an adult, and the world that crowded into my consciousness seethed with a malice I had only before glimpsed in figments and paranoiac images. Even while this music was most present in my consciousness, I was always digging for new sounds. New sounds seemed to speak to my reality more adequately, even as my beloved music found purchase with a vast audience spread across the entire globe. Instead of investing myself in the present as the music directed, I sought a means to critique the reality I witnessed. Over time, my relationship to it changed. The heroic makers of this music became humans. The tide was turning in the musical landscape, too, and the zeitgeist turned toward cold digitality, distortion, and aggressive rhythm. I never stopped loving the music, but as the apocalypse came and went uneventfully, the new work seemed to have lost its singular vitality, as if the magic were exhausted, fading like embers buried under the cover of dust.

Sic transit gloria. Yet humans need not be heroes to kindle brief passages of magic. Several such passages appear in the midst of Animal Collective’s newest album, and when I’ve put on “Summing the Wretch” or “FloriDada” or even “Hocus Pocus,” I haven’t merely remembered with nostalgia my history with their work; each of these tracks have a kind of exultant brightness, a joy that lately feels hidden beneath layers of critique and capital. But the history that attends Painting With is unavoidable, because for some of us, it was something other than a series of files on a computer or an iPod selection. For others, it was a strange eruption in the zeitgeist where a band achieved widespread success on the back of a few solid melodies and a myriad of studio illusions. Whatever your interpretation, whether you relate to them by rooting for their success or denying them substance or maintaining your imagined critical distance, Animal Collective will not outlive or out-write their past. This album’s swollen, buzzing synths do offer new directions, but they lie mostly unrealized, backing melodies that only rarely invite the immersion that so animates their more timeless songs.

However, the songs here offer glimpses of hope that there is plenty of magic and power left in these humans, that the future holds another singular release from their camp. Painting With lacks the consistency to be that work, but its moments of glory provide a welcome return to the melodic mastery of golden ages past. They seem so long ago.

Links: Animal Collective - Domino

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