Animal Collective - Danse Manatee
Dec 14, 2017
I wrote a paper on this song, and its role in experimental pop at the turn of the millennium.

Experimental Pop at the Turn of the Millennium -
Analysis of Danse Manatee and Where it Fits in the Landscape of Pop

Often described by critics as the “blunder” or “excess” in their discography, Animal Collective’s Danse Manatee remains a personal favorite of the musicians who created it. Inspired by the lowest and highest sounds on the frequency picked up by human ears, the album is a blend of free jams and experimentation on whatever was laying around the room, recorded on mini discs. This dedication to experimentation - where the production and recording quality was diminished over a drive to simply create, and because of that, it stands out in the field of experimental pop. Animal Collective is a Baltimore based American experimental pop band who have released ten studio albums to mainly critical and commercial success. Through varying styles and uses of experimentation in their work, they have established themselves as the poster child for a successful experimental pop group in the first decade of the 2000s, and maintained artistic integrity and fresh concepts throughout their history. Their contributions to the genre of experimental pop stem from a blend of pop inspired by Brian Wilson and psychedelic music from the likes of Pink Floyd. They are now retrospectively viewed as a landmark experimental pop band and through their constantly updated styles and recording techniques, manage to make each album different than their last.

Experimental pop’s roots lie with the American Brian Wilson, who was the first to take artpop to a commercial, national stage, and was a genius in his work. In his 1966 album Pet Sounds, Wilson manipulates the studio as his instrument, and uses songwriting and counterpoint in a brilliant way to appeal to both first time casual listeners and the toughest of critics. He established music immortality with this record, and also created the roots for a new genre. In the 1970s krautrock arrived, and through bands such as Can, Neu! and Faust, a blend between experimental and pop evolved in a way that brought many aspects from rock music. After the likes of Brian Eno, David Bowie, and Björk bridged the gap to the turn of the century, Animal Collective began to make their mark. With their 2000 release Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, Avey Tare and Panda Bear submerge piano and guitar pop ballads in harsh experimental and electronic noise. It also incorporates voice, mainly from Avey Tare. The band individuals met in high school and began recording together in different types of collaboration from a youthful age. In spite of the fact that the band is frequently delegated psych folk or noise rock, it is difficult to characterize the Animal Collective sound as they regularly explore different avenues regarding assorted styles and thoughts on each individual record. The gathering additionally runs the record name Paw Tracks on which they have released their own material and additional material by other artists, for example, Ariel Pink, Terrestrial Tones, and The Peppermints.

Following the release of Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, Avey Tare and Panda Bear joined with Geologist in 2001 to being work on Danse Manatee. The sounds that were in the album consisted of instruments like guitars and drum synths, but also anything that they could find around them. They recorded their album in Avey’s parent’s house, a house they all shared in Brooklyn Heights, a dorm room, and a radio station. They played around with the music they were playing through improvisation to find a new style. They were interested in the idea of extreme low and high frequencies, which caused challenges during the mastering portion of the record because this decision made the sounds more prone to distorting. The idea of multiple perceptions from the listener’s point of view was also taken of interest by the band, and they implemented successfully a record that can swerve from unlistenable, to be heralded as great just from a small shift in perception. Through childhood themes, noise, and little care for production, the album definitely may scare off some listeners, but their complete aversion to the rules of music and music production are what inspires me from the record. On certain tracks, there is an organic feel to it, as if their approach was to simply hit record and jam and then cut out their favorite moments for the album cut. It definitely shows their youth and almost is a helping hand to a child suffering from an anxiety attack - Avey Tare’s tribal screams, along with atmospheric electronic bleeps, chaotic percussion, and a dedication to emotional themes of youthful innocence and an appreciation of nature give the image of the three existing in a plane without time, and just in a world of music. They enter the world as the first track “A Manatee Danse” begins, and leave as the record comes to a close with “In the Singing Box”. They are so authentic in this album almost to the point that it hurts when another artist listens and can become self-aware to realize how they weren’t in some of their own works. Snippets of free-improvisation along with percussion ranging from crisp hand claps to intense jazz-inspired runs by Panda Bear hold the record together.

The album was created in the first half of 2001, during the last months of pre-9/11 America. The United States was at a time of confusion and search for identity, as the rise of the internet and other technologies brought intrigue as well as fear to its citizens. The 2000 election saw a virtual fifty-fifty split in voter ideologies and policies and that split has evolved into a deep, wide chasm over the next fifteen years. This album reflects those last moments of innocence before the attacks of September 11th forever transformed America. The country seemed to be less self-aware back then, as widespread reports of mass surveillance and other methods to destroy a citizen’s privacy had not reached the public eye. However, the members of Animal Collective seem to be very aware of their place within the realm of music and society on the record, they choose to be completely original, almost to the point of including flaws and naiveté, and “fill the room” with their use of extreme frequencies. This album perfectly exemplifies the experimental pop side of Animal Collective’s discography. I believe that it distinguishes itself through its decision to put authenticity and exploratory ideas above production and song structure. The free form of certain songs on the record differs from the second half of Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, in which they began with three noise laden tracks then worked with pop-style ballads for the remainder of the album.

In the field of experimental pop, I believe that Animal Collective’s Danse Manatee is important because I think it is a very unique album and does not directly remind me of any of its influences or any other albums in general. Rather than sharing field recordings with fully produced songs such as The Olivia Tremor Control, they produce an album where the entire disc sounds like a field recording. By recording the album on mini discs, they create the air of “Let’s record whenever we get the impulse to” and make the listener feel that whenever a spark reached their brains, they definitely put everything they were tasked with aside and just let their ideas flow onto the disc. They stuffed it full of creative ideas and genuine emotion, and witnessing both of which on an album seems to be exceedingly rare with the now world domination of corporate pop. The exact reasons that allow this album to exist as “weird” or unlistenable” to other listeners are why I personally enjoy this record more than any others in their discography - at this point in my life I also value originality and expression over a clean, clearly labeled product, so rather than with disgust, when I complete my listens of Danse Manatee, I return full of inspired ideas and methods on how I can record in ways I once deemed unimaginable.
Dec 14, 2017
Written in December 2016 for CalArts
Apr 12, 2020
If you didn't get an A on this paper imma throw hands with your professor
Jul 6, 2020
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