There comes a moment on each song from Animal Collective’s new album, Painting With, when realization hits—when the whimsy of the whirring textures and silly vocal melodies unearths an unresolvable question. From its first skitter of drums, “The Burglars” crafts such an outsized reality. Avey Tare dreams of morphing into a hare and, “a pocket full of change is emptied by a little gawky bright and bubbly bird.” For a band often lauded/critiqued for their child-like wonder, such Seussian lyrics certainly play into this reputation 10(!) albums into their career.
However, lurking beneath this Looney Tunes landscape is a keen meditation on theft and economic inequality. It reminds me of A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in which five-year rainstorms and soil-eating runaways give way to megalomaniacal banana factories. Marquez’s bending of reality, at first awe-inspiring and intoxicating, contains unnerving ramifications. While sometimes put to fantastical ends, it’s this same ability to twist narratives that silences voices and ravages cultures.
Swept up in the dense foliage of “The Burglars”, I lose myself. Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s voices blend together in off-kilter cadences, a video-game synth line pushing the track incessantly forward. Animal Collective’s music is neither childish nor child-like. It smashes through the bony exterior of jaded understanding, activating an excitement for the world so natural to childhood and foreign to adulthood. Swept up in this state, basking in the delicious Panda Bear harmonies that shine through the track’s second half, the last few lines catch me off-guard. What started as a careening adventure has transformed into something altogether more serious, as Avey Tare wonders, “brush it all away/or do I let it sink in?/is it my ambition/just to turn away?/freedom for the burglars.”
I trace my way back through the song’s winding path, through Marquez’s Macondo, and the horizon tilts on its axis. Have I lapsed into apathy? Does this desensitization make me complicit in the crimes of others? I don’t have the answers and neither does Animal Collective, but I know what I’ll be listening to when the wilderness overtakes me.
Listen here. Image from here.