Animal Collective have always felt like a band which hold you at arms length. On the accessible end of the scale they're cryptic, and at the experimental end, they're almost indecipherable. Their cover art has always successfully reflected their mood - sometimes at the expense of aesthetics. Merriweather Post Pavillion's hypnotising and flowery optical illusion radiated a trippy optimism, whereas Centipede HZ and Strawberry Jam are overwhelming in their unappealing, and crude fuggly-ness.
However, Panda Bear's recent album had a beautiful graphic cover, which was designed by DJ Marco Papiro, and this may have swayed the group in the direction of the attractive.
They've gone all out 'art' with their new album. Entitled Painting With, it is apparently 'concerned with and inspired by "art (Cubism, Dadaism, and the distorted way those artists viewed the world) and the human experience, and the meeting of both".
The artwork chosen to represent this band's intentions definitely communicate these somewhat abstract ideas without replicating the reference material. Distorted artwork, which is about abstract music, which is about avant-garde art. Make sense?
Hats are tipped to Brian Degraw, who created the main glitchy, analogue images. He also makes his own music as bEEdEEgEE (and as a member of Gang Gang Dance), and he is cooler than you.
They're colourful collages of paper cut squiggles and painted portraits, and strike a great balance between surreal and realistic. Having never featured on their own album covers before, this feels like a perfect way to introduce the portraits of the members involved in this release (Panda Bear, Geologist and Avey Tare), because their personalities don't get in the way of communicating the music. Art comes first, and they come second.
There's a choice of covers, so you can buy the one with your favourite member on the front (like a Power Rangers lunch box), and there's a free app where you can listen to the track 'Lying in the Grass' whilst collaborating on a digital finger painting with a stranger from somewhere on the internet. If you look closely at the images, you start to interpret the abstract. Like the half-sad face collaged onto the Avey Tare cover, or the seafood themed shapes on the Geologist option. You can see the repeated prawn shape at the bottom, and the tuna sushi arching over the top as well, yes? No?
The man walking down the stairs leading from Panda Bear's chin also appears on the Zoetrope Slipmat which is included in the Limited Edition Deluxe package, and looks incredible.
Despite this, I have one point of contention; the app. I don't think anyone has cracked the immersive digital music experience yet, and the ephemeral nature of apps doesn't allow for deep absorption of music.
Even the most riveting of apps are still susceptible to interrupting Whatsapp pings. And you're only a double click away from a revelatory Buzzfeed article. This app isn't particularly captivating, and revolves around literally 'painting with' Animal Collective - as in, you can use their faces as brushes. I played with it once, really liked the song, and then deleted the app. The slipmat is actually a more fitting and engrossing partner to the music.
The opportunity to create a listening experience which really taps into your other senses (pun intended), and requires physical participation has so far only really been grasped by Björk and her pioneering Biophilia App/Album from 2011. It created a universe for the music to exist in, and each song became a unique interactive planet within it. The sounds, score and rhythms were used as a basis for interaction.
It questioned how an album can be consumed, and aimed to neglect the passive listening experience of the conventional album format. It became the first App to be added to MoMA's permanent collection because of all this.
Whether the format will become a more widely used method of distributing an album remains to be seen.
The Painting With app definitely doesn't break as much ground as the Biophilia one did, but at least they're trying to be inclusive. It feels like the band are finally welcoming other animals into their collective.