A Beginner’s Guide to Animal Collective

Consistency is possibly the hardest challenge musicians face as their careers advance. Even the greats, such as Tangerine Dream, have some lacklustre projects in their back catalogues. However, in their two-decade career, Animal Collective have rarely slipped. Before achieving indie darling status, they released a slew of some of the best independent music of the 2000’s.

‘The 2000’s’, an album written entirely by a despondent teenage Avey Tare, accompanied by the frantic percussion of Panda Bear, contains the former Beach Boyesque ear for melody which compliments the often severe experimentation and textural exploration that would define their early material.

While the fluctuating high frequencies and hushed vocals of the opener, and the atonal keys paired with the pained screams of closing song Alvin Row, may put some people off, there exists in this record a childlike approach to melody, major key flirtations for the big kid in every adult. This immaturity and resistance to the onslaught of adulthood, makes ‘Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished’ instantaneously palatable, and with repeated listening, enchantingly beautiful.

However, this naive idealisation of youth and all the beauties it suggests could only last so long. So came ‘Here Comes the Indian’, a tense record that perfectly represents the mindset of the four artists involved, which was terrified and desperately individualistic.

Influenced as much by Japanese noise rockers, Boredoms, as Brian Wilson, ‘Here Comes the Indian’ is a collection of seven meticulously crafted psychedelic soundscapes that will as soon dissolve into acapella sequences, than explode into free-form, drum led freak outs. Highlights include the twelve-minute drone piece, Two Sails on a Sound and Avey Tare’s psychedelic musings as he proclaims on the opener that, “Pretending I am a worm / Has proved all too easy”. This effort to appeal to our most animal, base instincts is perhaps what makes this album so engaging. This, the meta-modernist equivalent to the caveman banging rocks together, the musical parallel to punching a wall in sheer anger; an exercise in pure bestial bliss.

And then, again, there were two.

‘Sung Tongs’ saw Animal Collective becoming a pair once again, as Avey and Panda stripped back and re purposed Comuslike freak-folk for modern listeners. Arguably at the peak of their songwriting talent, the first half of Sung Tongs contains songs that would feel just as comfortable on college radio as at an LSD-fuelled rager. It showcased their utterly unique way of approaching guitar.Syncopated interplay with percussion, bizarre time-signatures,and willingness to exemplify odd vocal quirks. Panda’s glitched vocals on the utterly iridescent second half of Mouth Wood Her. ‘Sung Tongs’ still retained a willingness to experiment, but here, this was tamed and married with a mature approach to songwriting. The turmoil expressed earlier had dissipated.

What was left was a cry of long deserved exuberance. A cry that would evolve into ‘Sung Tongs’.


Fintan Gallagher

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