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Animal Collective

Evolving from a noise-driven alt-rock outfit in the early 00s, and into a psychedelic freak-folk affair – and beyond, ANIMAL COLLECTIVE (David Portner – aka Avey Tare, Noah Lennox – Panda Bear, Josh Dibb – or Deakin – and Brian Weitz – aka Geologist) have taken the OLIVIA TREMOR CONTROL-meets-FLAMING LIPS musical method to new extremes. Their journey from early post-millennium experimentalists were greeted with bemusement, although, having succumbed to some tweaks, AC’s time in the mid-00s at English indie imprint Fat Cat Records produced the odd folk insemination. Domino Records (home to FRANZ FERDINAND and many more indie acts), were impressed by their collage of sounds, and since 2007, the genre-hopping AC have been happy to be drawing in a growing fanbase from all over the globe.
Back in 1999 in Baltimore, Maryland, the then mysterious ‘Collective were just two: vocalists/instrumentalists/sample-ists Avey Tare and Panda Bear. SPIRIT THEY’RE GONE, SPIRIT THEY’VE VANISHED (2000) {*7} was the pair’s self-financed debut album, and initially credited in their weird but wonderful pseudonyms. Intentional feedback, electronic distortion and noise was the order of the day, although there were pastoral passages littered about from time to time by way of `Penny Dreadfuls’, `Chocolate Girl’ and the 12-minute `Alvin Row’.
Adding third member, Geologist, the `Collective’s follow-up set, DANSE MANATEE (2001) {*5}, was as tripped-out and avant-garde as the freak-ish trio dared, while live set, HOLLINNDAGAIN (2002) {*6} – recorded on tour with BLACK DICE – pushed the boundaries of improv even further. Skeletal and sonic like its predecessor, `I See You Pan’ and the campfire-esque `Pride And Fight’ were flower-esque; the bare bones and natural naivety were indeed on display on this experimental exercise.
Following on from another eponymous exercise in psychotic “field” recordings, CAMPFIRE SONGS (2003) {*6} – with Deakin temporarily substituting Geologist – ANIMAL COLLECTIVE (as they were now known) landed on Earth for another display of crop-circle freak-folk on HERE COMES THE INDIAN (2003) {*7}. Extracting rhythm from acid-fried squalls and rapid-fire beats (CRASS without the politics), the delirium and the damage done made one think one was entering a madhouse on Jumanji day; the 12-minute `Two Sails On A Sound’ and `Infant Dressing Table’, as far removed from convention as one might imagine.
2004’s enterprising SUNG TONGS {*8} was as close as the quirky quartet got to sounding like The BEACH BOYS, The HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS and The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, all-in-one. From the excellent short-take of `Who Could Win A Rabbit’ to `Mouth Wooded Her’ and `Good Lovin’ Outside’ (but forget the 12-minute Floyd-ian `Visiting Friends’), the album was mind-blowing to the nth degree.
Awash with autoharps and the dulcet tones of folk diamond daisy VASHTI BUNYAN, ANIMAL COLLECTIVE unleashed the EP `Prospect Hummer’ (2005), a record that offered up four primal folk dirges from the brilliant `It’s You’ to the whimsical `I Remember Learning How To Drive’.
For the band’s subsequent release, FEELS (2005) {*8} – featuring the XTC-like `Grass’ and `The Purple Bottle’ – ANIMAL COLLECTIVE had bridged the gap between avant-garde and alt-pop; another example being opening salvo `Did You See The Words’. Although quite minimalist and lo-fi in places, the lengthy `Banshee Beat’ and `Daffy Duck’, built upon patient beginnings for a climactic directive.
As delicately blissed-out, 2007’s well-named Domino Records debut, STRAWBERRY JAM {*8}, was the group’s most commercial set to date, reaching the US Top 75. Panda Bear’s cosmically child-like backing vox on `Peacebone’ (and others) was pure BRIAN WILSON in his prime, psychedelic heyday. Described as a sprawling, spacey set of maniacal songs (`Fireworks’ and `Chores’ other “lo-hi” highlights), ANIMAL COLLECTIVE had come of age.
The brilliance of 2009’s MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION {*9}, saw the ‘Collective dipping their feet in the big musical jungle, and the Top 20 – a million miles away from the ethos of their brief liaison with folk-rock. A togetherness was found on this harmonious BEACH BOYS-like album – the group’s neo-psychedelic warped answer to BBs “Pet Sounds”. `My Girls’, `Summertime Clothes’ and third single, `Brother Sport’, drew in a celestial and cerebral spirit from out of somewhere and, while one could almost forgive and forget the quartet’s drone-like impulses from their embryonic days, there was a sense of déjà vu from all directions stretching as far back as the 60s; note that Deakin had taken time out for personal reasons before duly returning to the fore.
PANDA BEAR, meanwhile, could well’ve bought the voices of The BEACH BOYS, if they’d been for sale, but his take on experimental acid folk (think FLEET FOXES or SPIRITUALIZED) was rather out-there. While his 2011 set `Tomboy’ tinkered only minimally with folk music and hit the US Top 30 (`You Can Count On Me’ a modern-day classic), his 2004 mini-effort for Paw Tracks, `Young Prayer’ was an ambiguous touch with no identifiable “untitled” dirges; `Perfect Pitch’ (2007) was indie industrial on a grandiose scale.
Although not as immediate and expansive as ANIMAL COLLECTIVE’s predecessor, the band’s equally sales-worthy CENTIPEDE Hz (2012) {*7}, was just as trippy. Probably too complex and verging too much into techno-rock territory, the stuttering track `Today’s Supernatural’ was a logical progression toward something akin to digital. With FLEET FOXES and ARCADE FIRE stamping their own authority on neo-psych harmony-pop – albeit with kaleidoscopic collisions of their own – Avey, Panda, Deaks and Geo were in their adrenaline-rush element on `Applesauce’, `Monkey Riches’, `Father Time’ and `Moonjock’.
While anticipation and salivation were on the lips of a growing contingent of ‘Collective fans, a PANDA BEAR looked to be just doing alright on his lonesome, courtesy of the magical psychedelic record that was early 2015’s `…Meets The Grim Reaper’; insightful full-group acolytes (2000 of them) would purchase limited numbers of the triple-vinyl LIVE AT 9:30 (2015) {*6}, recorded in concert a few summers back from the said club in Washington D.C.
By February 2016, the ANIMAL COLLECTIVE trio (Avey, Panda and Geologist) were brushing up on their tape-sample and vocal-harmony skills on PAINTING WITH {*8}. A transatlantic Top 50 set decorated by their backwards-effect BRIAN WILSON/DEVO/BRIAN ENO motifs, their most buoyant and colourful pieces were coincidentally sprayed on opening salvo `FloriDada’ (snatching The SURFARIS’ Wipe Out) and `Hocus Pocus’ (featuring drones by JOHN CALE over newscasts). A polyrhythmic palette of “Pet Sounds” from every angle and ebullient equation, the record’s low points were their vocal-scale exercises (`The Burglars’ and `Lying In The Grass’), although no one could deny the high-heeled spark of semi-classics `Natural Selection’, `Spilling Guts’, `Summing The Wench’ and `Golden Gal’ (the latter featuring a sample of Blanche from… you guessed it… “The Golden Girls”).
2017 was an eventful year for the ‘Collective, who delivered two EPs worth of fresh sounds by way of `The Painters’ (featuring a smaltzy take of `Jimmy Mack’) and `Meeting Of The Waters’; the latter was absent of PANDA BEAR. To compensate for the loss of the ‘Bear, Deakin (not for the first time), upped their membership by reinstating Deakin for the particularly downbeat 2018 set (and film), TANGERINE REEF (2018) {*5}. Working in conjunction with art-environmentalists Coral Morphologic, gone was the bamboo-bounce of the PANDA man, and in its place something akin to movie music not unlike BO HANSSON or THROBBING GRISTLE. But for scuba-surfers such as `Inspector Gadget’, `Hair Cutter’ and `Buffalo Tomato’, the experimental motifs ran on empty for a once-class act – all ‘n’ all, a damp(ish) squib.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Oct2013-Aug2018

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