The announcement of The Painters EP held a lot of promise. From the freak folk warbling of Prospect Hummer to the bassline pop on Fall Be Kind’s ‘What Would I Want? Sky’, Animal Collective’s EP history is spotless. What sets The Painters apart is its concision, clocking in at just 13 minutes. Usually, Avey, Panda, (Deak,) and Geo are unafraid to let their songs extend into infinity. Here, hooks are paramount.
The band have been covering Martha Reeves & the Vandellas’ ‘Jimmy Mack’ on tour, and have included a recorded version as the final track here. Originally a 2 and a half minute pop song, AnCo turn it into a 4-minute synth-bass dance piece. Dave Portner howls harder than he’s done since Strawberry Jam (or the overlooked Water Curses EP). Half humorous joyride, half doo-wop homage, this cover showcases a vocally unhinged Portner, proving that a seminal band is always capable of new tricks.
Though the previous three songs don’t contain nearly as much pomp, they’re still worthy of the AnCo EP crown. ‘Kinda Bonkers’ is a blast, playing with more hushed vocal ideas than the direct lyricism of last year’s Painting With. The opening line is “life is so French toast to me/ if you wait too long/ it gets black and weak,” which dangerously approaches banality. Then, you remember some of the oddball lyricism of the Feels era. If you could find yourself nodding your head to lyrics like “someone in my dictionary’s up to no good,” then you could certainly follow the French toast metaphor a little further down the rabbit hole.
And here’s an important element in listening to Animal Collective eight years after Merriweather Post Pavilion. Though most of us didn’t enjoy Painting With, there aren’t any signifiers suggesting the band have stopped challenging themselves. They’re merely in a new stage of their career. Don’t consider what they were thinking when they wrote stinkers like ‘Bagels in Kiev’. Think about what could have brought them to the conclusion of recording that kind of song. It was likely a string of events just as inspired as the freaked out AnCo we fell for years ago.
Anyway, ‘Peacemaker’ sounds more like Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. Underneath the whirling dervish vocals is an equally disorienting synth that sounds like Sung Tongs¬ put through a lens of the higher-fi sounds that AnCo have utilized on the last couple of records. ‘Goalkeeper’, though obnoxious at first, is a fine snapshot of Animal Collective’s current idiom. It’s capped at a generous 2:48, leaving subsequent listens a shade brighter with knowledge that the band are equally capable of writing epics as they are short bursts of energy. After you turn down the volume a bit and focus on its details, you realize it’s not as bad as its first few loud bars.
’Jimmy Mack’ and ‘Kinda Bonkers’ are so damn good, it’s got yours truly twirling in anticipation for another release (for about the fifth time since becoming a listener). The most recent interim took four years of waiting, and had a payoff that was puzzling to say the least. Though Animal Collective EPs are usually an expansion on previous records, here’s hoping that The Painters is more of a positive portent of a band about to hit its fourth quality stride.