A funny thing happened on Animal Collective’s ascent to indie iconoclasm these last 15-odd years: turns out they’re a pretty damn good pop group. As a band, the Baltimore trio/quartet was always at their best when they cut the crap and stripped away all the bells and whistles they usually process through their music, and just play the songs they wrote. When they do that, they achieve a sort of transcendence that comes close to the harmonies The Beach Boys possessed when they recorded Smiley Smile. So it should only make sense for the current lineup of Panda Bear, Avey Tare and Geologist to have ventured to Hollywood to the Ocean Way Recording, where Brian Wilson and family recorded their troubled 1967 classic, for the creation of their strongest title in many years, Painting With. But at the same time, one can also hear the spirit of another indelible title recorded at this historic studio, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, within the group’s incorporation of alien art pop and thumping jeep beats. The grooves imbued on songs like “Hocus Pocus,” “Vertical” and “Golden Gal” are really, really good—propelling the three-part harmonies of this particular lineup (sans Deakin, who released his own stellar solo album, Sleep Cycle, via Kickstarter this year as well) these guys have been so adept at evolving with each record to a keen new semblance of synergy. Even when they’re allowing the static saxophone of in-demand indie reedist Colin Stetson to cut through the rhythm, as he does so well on “Lying in the Grass,” it’s done in such a way that its more melodically appealing than anything on Merriweather Post Pavilion and Centipede Hz combined. At its strongest, Painting With comes across as this strange collusion of Dark Horse-era George Harrison and solo Syd Barrett that you’d think could never ever make sense but works so well on this most impressive effort from one of the most inventive acts in American pop.