Mike Powell's review of "Painting With" for Pitchfork was a gut punch read for me. It's the rare review that hit home not only as a vivid description of the music contained within, but as a personal memoir told through dissipated fandom. For about three years, from 2005-2008, I may have listened to Animal Collective more than any other band. Was that really a decade ago? It already seems like it was a thousand years ago.
This story doesn't have a sad ending. There's nothing wrong with "Painting With" -- it's fun, bright, giddy, and bursting with unconventionally creative hooks. But something is missing. It doesn't move me in the least. The same was true of their last album, "Centipede Hz". Listen, it's no big deal, like Powell says, "fifteen years is longer than most bands last, let alone great ones". Animal Collective will be fine with their side projects and third from the top festival appearances for the foreseeable future. But they'll never be the era-defining band they threatened to be several years ago.
Then again, as I showed four years ago, the unexpected success of "Merriweather Post Pavillion" was an outlier that comes along maybe once every couple of decades. The likely fallout from that type of flukey success wasn't clear to me then, but in hindsight it couldn't be more obvious. Great bands often need a few albums to work out their M.O., and fans need time to grow into their favourite bands. After approximately 4-6 years and 3-5 albums, it all peaks. In the Animal Collective timeline, the hardcore fans had already become disillusioned with what the band had become. The newer fans saw them as just another media driven fad, a view that was reinforced when the hardcore fan base became bored and started imploding. By the end of 2009, MPP might have been the default top album of the year in many polls, but the writing was already on the wall. Listeners were way oversaturated with all things Animal Collective, and no group of fans had much motivation for carrying the torch through to the next album for the reasons I described.