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Animal Collective’s ‘Painting With’ misses the mark

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There was an air of uncertainty about Animal Collective’s future after band members announced they were focusing on solo projects after 2012’s disappointing “Centipede Hz.” Fans were afraid that the band’s first real stumble might be the last work they would ever release.

Instead, Animal Collective surprised fans when they announced the completion of a new album in 2015 without founding member Deakin. Hype continued to build when they debuted the album “Painting With” a few months later over the loudspeakers at Baltimore Washington International airport. They officially released the album Friday.

The first single, “FloriDada,” helped up expectations with its manic lyrics and intoxicating arrangements. Unfortunately, “Painting With” never reaches the emotional apex or level of complexity of the lead single.

There are 12 tracks on the album, but I’d be pressed to remember any of them except the singles. There is a serious lack of lyrical and instrumental complexity in the middle of the album, an unexpected critique for the same band that once released songs like “Peacebone” and “Honeycomb.”

The album really isn’t even that psychedelic. Sure, there are hints of Animal Collective’s playful attitude, but it is a shadow compared to their past material. The reverb that had long been a staple of the band’s previous work is noticeably missing.

There is an entire section of the album, from the end of “Lying in the Grass” through “Summing the Wretch,” that leaves virtually no impact. The last track on the album, “Recycling,” ends so anticlimactically, it is almost comical.

For all the vitriol fans and critics tossed at “Centipede Hz,” it certainly was not boring. “Painting With” is the first Animal Collective album that is so pared down, so low energy, that it was actually a chore to listen to a second and third time.

“Painting With” largely lacks the complexity and psychedelic experimentation that fans have come to expect from the band. There simply isn’t anything beyond “FloriDada” and “Golden Gal” that demands the listener’s attention.

Fans expecting a return to the days of “Merriweather Post Pavilion” and “Strawberry Jam” will no doubt be disappointed. At best, it can be said that “Painting With” is a step in the right direction.

Ultimately, the final product lacks any sense of coherence found in the band’s previous work. It just starts and ends with no memorable emotionally impactful moments. The singles showed promise, but the album did not deliver on that promise. “Painting With” is an improvement on 2012’s “Centipede Hz” but not a return to the excellence of the past.

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