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Album Reviews

Animal Collective - The Painters EP

Caden Marchese

by Sydney Britsch

The Painters: A New Canvas

Summer sounds and hypnotic hallucinations fill the air as Animal Collective plays on my speaker.  It seems all too fitting that Animal Collective’s new EP, The Painters, was released just as Boulder was in the midst of enjoying a heat wave that somehow managed to sneak itself into the mid-February breeze. Chilling mixtures of sound and music combine to create a beautifully strange style that few other artists have been able to achieve.

“Kinda Bonkers” is the first song on the EP.  It has a strong, yet playful African beat murmuring throughout its ever-morphing landscape.  The base sound is continuous and meditative throughout with a pulsing intensity that builds and lightens, almost as if it were breathing.  Combine the vocals on this track, which are more heavily emphasized, with the easily understood lyrics and you get a very catchy song that gets stuck in your head, even after just one listen.    This same type of playfulness also appeared on Painting With, the sister album to this EP. Both of these albums share an upbeat spirit that is somehow squeezed into a couple of minutes on each track. This is in sharp contrast compared to Animal Collective’s older, more traditional tracks, like “My Girls,” that usually run much longer.  At first, this strong distinction was bothersome because it almost seemed like a less genuine artistic expression. But if you get over the somewhat cheesy titles and puns, these songs still have an indisputable artistry woven within them.

At first listen, you probably wouldn’t realize that “Jimmy Mack” is a cover of a song originally performed by the Motown girl group, Martha & the Vandellas, because of Animal Collective’s cryptic style. This track transports me back to the 60’s because of its psychedelic intro with echoing sounds that transition this song into a dream world where anything is possible.  Fluid sounds of water quickly turn into an upbeat disco-like dance tune with a chorus that mimics the original girl group, but a melody that is distorted throughout.

While listening to “Peacemaker,” an echo of vocals stream into the ear’s consciousness, which creates the sound of two songs overlapped on top of one another.  The rate of the beat is like that of a heartbeat, which draws you in and makes you just want to sit back and hang out while taking in this relaxing melody.  But the echoing can be a bit bombarding at times with only a few breaks from the incessant noise of the vocals, which is probably what grants this as my least favorite track on the new EP.

Whereas “Goalkeeper” contains the same bright spirit found within Merriweather Post Pavilion, with layered and ambitious sounds, which almost forces me to listen to this track with a smile. Right away this track grabs my attention with its fast, ever-changing beat that is continuously pushing the song forward. At one point, the bass drops out and it’s suddenly like the song is taking place in space, floating around while shooting stars fly past.  When the bass comes back in, it sounds like the twang of a rubber band and there are two intertwining melodies introduced. This track is definitely the most complex sounding song on The Painters and because of this familiar and intricate sound, “Goalkeeper” is my favorite track on the new EP.

The beginning of all the tracks on this EP greatly resemble the group’s other worldly sound, but when combined with the vocals the tracks take on a more eclectic pop sound than the weird alternative fans have grown accustomed.  Although I have some mixed feelings about Animal Collective’s new sound, I still think they manage to maintain a brilliant resiliency that balances the unconventionally weird with the catchy and compelling melodies that surpass an artist’s struggle to create something new, which in this day and age seems almost impossible.

Hand Habits - Wildly Idle

Caden Marchese

by Jamie Nagode

Meg Duffy of Hand Habits drops her anticipated debut album Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) in February 2017, after having spent a few short years touring with friends and signing with Woodsist records just months before.  Recently, her following has expanded through sheer merit, gaining momentum playing guitar with other musicians on the up-and-up: Kevin Morby, Mega Bog, Weyes Blood, and Amber Arcades.  In that time, she dreamt up a lush of an album on the road west.  Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) is certified bedroom pop, but you can listen anywhere these days, right? Listen to this album on a train going nowhere in particular. It blends beachy salt water through acrylic autumn leaves and leaves you wondering where the music is leading you.  The album was written and recorded in upstate New York and later in Los Angeles, accompanying Duffy’s west-coast move.  Its incredibly truthful, oozes dreamy imagery with soft, sad vibrations. She spills her heart on the coffee table and leaves it there to stain.  

Flower Glass plays with layers on layers of reverberant guitar and soft overdubbed angelic voices.  She whispers her love for someone close – a person deserving of love but doesn’t necessarily believe it.  You can imagine how a song like that feels.  I need a pick-me-up.  Enter Actress, the clouds dissolve so slightly and welcome a more content level of melancholy.  The beat picks up with eggshakers and a jazz kit, tries to make light of a gloomy affair – a breakup and a resolution. This is easily an album favorite; its genuine and meticulous with nothing left untouched.  Following the single is one of three instrumental interludes, Greater La (Scene), using a keyboard and heavy distortion masking vocalized spoken word; these split up the album.

In Between is bass-driven with a little swing, though at a slow pace, like walking through a cemetery.  Monotone vocals tell the story of a ghost, the paranormal feeling of living in between worlds and crossing over.  The second single on the album, All the While is a spooky little take on submission and death, freedom and nihility.  A groovy guitar break consumes the bridge, as if surf indie found itself lost in the middle of Oklahoma, just twisting in the wind, regardless of the rain. Demand It slows down and jazzes up some vocal woes, and Cowboy (Scene) closes the curtain on the second act with another interlude much like the first.

Sun Beholds Me, a heart-wrenching acoustic ballad with orchestrated atmospheric tones in the background, effortless and natural bleeds your heart out.  As if you had empathy left over from the first side of this record, the melody shocks your system and exhausts the neurons that force you to relate.  This phase is slightly remedied with the following song, Book on How to Change, a somewhat lighter number, contemplative and reminiscent, like looking out the window on a fast moving train. This is bookended with the last interlude, Time Hole (Scene).

A meditative song like Nite Life, with dissonant harmonies on every note and continuous looped guitar, frees you from carnal containment and lets you float through.  The sound grows with reverb as if you’re submerged in deep water, listening to the sounds distort as they fall away into the abyss.  Bad Boy and New Bones play on this distortion, adding more layers and harmonies to finally close out the record with serenity, leaving the body content and calm. For a first full length LP, Hand Habits certainly sets the table for something beautiful to come.