Animal Collective - Discography Review

Includes solo projects from Avey, Panda, Deakin, and the Geologist.

Animal Collective - Sung Tongs
Sung Tongs is the culmination of AnCo's preoccupation with the organic psychedelia native to the guitar—a cultural re-examination of acoustic music. As with all the collective's projects, it seems to deconstruct traditional understandings of maturity, reclaiming the playfulness of youthful preoccupations, but, even more importantly, the project also seems to deconstruct the idea of the song as a fixed form, much in the way of 2003's "Campfire Songs". But to that record's immersive and meditative pallet, "Sung Tongs" adds a diversity of texture, of length, of comport—and a remarkable clarity in production and performance—all while maintaining a sense of integrative cohesion. What manic tension is present here unfurls into graceful meditation; Sung Tong's emotional intensity is a product of its seemingly improvised patience. The percussion is also so gloriously present in the mix, making the whole record feel like one extended live session—a precious present-ness Animal Collective would lose by the time of their subsequent LP, "Feels". Panda's vocal delivery on this record is perhaps his most unique, often possessing a tension, as on "Who Could Win a Rabbit", worlds apart from the blissed-out Beach Boys-esque crooning he would adopt post-Person Pitch. Most characteristic to this record, however, is the joyous feeling that its polyphony, as on cuts like "The Softest Voice" or "Mouth Wooed Her", could never be premeditated, but only the results of that particular moment: and so Animal Collective successfully manage to fulfill the design of the tribal music they so clearly eulogize: to release into the community the creative energies of the present, in all their diveristy, in all their différance, to be savoured, and to be celebrated.
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
What does it mean to mature for a band whose very ethos, especially on records like Sung Tongs, centers around reclaiming the playfulness and youthful wonder of childhood? On MPP, unquestionably the band's decisive turn towards the accessibility of pop music, Animal Collective miraculously seem to evoke their own tender, trackless world with a crisper, bolder, and bigger sonic palette. Their earlier experiments and psychedelic landscapes are hinted at throughout the record, perhaps at the backbone of many of the tracks here—whether it's the Here Comes the Indian-esque melodies of "In the Flowers" or the way "Guys Eyes" seems to echo back (especially in its imbricating vocal deliveries) to "Mouth Wooed Her". Many of the intros and outros on these tracks remind me of moments on AnCo's debut, Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They've Vanished—but again, these ideas are re-worked and re-contextualised, not re-treaded.

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Animal Collective - Ark
I listened to "Two Sails On A Sound" at dusk, on a hill overlooking the countryside, and watched the shadows around me lengthen. One of the most meditative experiences I've had in months.

Ark is a harrowing and dynamic record that seems to function by sudden implosion, marked uniquely by the transition from loud to quiet. In its abrasive and colourful amalgamation, it never seems to lose sight of its own foreboding, re-casting narratives of indigeneity, and their spiritual and communal authenticity, as heralds of our own radical confusion. But indigeneity is not merely treated as a foil to Western hetero-normative colonialism, but celebrated in itself, conjuring experiences of sensory and temporal rupture, the radical flattening of onto-theology into a splattered tapestry of viewpoint and bearing.
Animal Collective - Prospect Hummer
I absolutely LOVE the marriage of these experimental guitar passages, soaked in reverb and sunlight, with Bunyan's fragile vocals... It's hazy, it's avant-garde... it even reminds me a bit of Four Tet's *Pause* in its saturated and organic tone.
Animal Collective - Campfire Songs
Campfire Songs is an experiment in recording, ambiance, and geographic situation—and as such, remains perhaps the most enveloping, undivided, and deeply psychedelic listening experience in Animal Collective's discography... It is both raggedly communal and spiritually erratic, indeed, as warm and enrapturing as a campfire at night. The sound of rain and thunder become more than just "background" field recordings, but integral and active reflexive elements of composition. The record swells and recedes with a natural, harmonic grace, making the studio trickery of later records like Centipede Hz or Painting With feel so hollow, so out of balance... This is not a premeditated, but a meditative record: one that gives itself up wholly to its contextual composition. In its deconstruction of the "purity" of the Western musical canon it assumes a form both deeply spiritual and culturally subversive.

Favorite tracks: There are no tracks on this record, it doesn't subscribe to that kind of compartmentalization!


I'd also like to say: It's hard to listen to "Doggy" without breaking down. Miss you Kinzie.
Animal Collective - Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished
Oddly, I find this the saddest, bleakest Animal Collective project. It weaves in and out of crackling, noisy synths and honeyed hooks with a loud-soft dynamic reminiscent of PJ Harvey's "Rid of Me". Aside from "Campfire Songs", this record feels the most "live" in AnCo's discography, though it's hardly the most spontaneous. The youthful urgency so central to Animal Collective's identity is certainly suffuse here, but, as the title indicates, this record feels more like a spiritual and temporal journey through the unknown. It defines, in a certain way—and at both the microscopic and macroscopic level—the practice of transcendence. And, of course, transcendence can never be to or from the familiar: this is the start of something radically *new* in the world of music, the carving out of an entirely new kind of psychedelic space.

Favourite tracks: "Spirit They've Vanished", "April and the Phantom", "Untitled", "Chocolate Girl", "La Rapet", "Alvin Row".

Least favourite track: N/A.
Panda Bear - Young Prayer
A meditative yet stirring listen, riddled with fascinating, elliptical syncopation (particularly evident on the final piano cut, #9, for instance). Harkens back to the aesthetic of "Visiting Friends", on Sung Tongs. Most of all, the record feels spiritually exploratory, an open prayer, indeed, in the face of grief, all while using repetition and interruption to redefine the cultural limits of the acoustic guitar
Animal Collective - Transverse Temporal Gyrus
Hazy and enveloping, Transverse Temporal Gyrus recovers the improvisational spirit of AnCo's best albums—an experimental opus that is almost symphonic, with radial movements that seem to cohere around their own liminality. It is an art piece that explores the tracklessness of the mind and the formlessness of the "song", synthesizing acoustic guitar passages that shimmer with the miasma of sunlight and glitchy, almost ambient, production that distorts instrument and voice to the point of indistinguishability. In that way, akin to the audio cortex of the brain described by the title, the EP explores the limits of sensory perception (as in the lineage of post-psychedelic music): playfully distorting what is rendered definite and what is rendered indefinite (i.e. categorizable and non-categorizable) while perhaps ultimately suggesting that the hierarchy of representational comparison, particularly in aesthetics, always refers back to delusion—and to the False. And so hierarchy is un-founded, joyously.
Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
As crisp and dry as the Arizona desert in which it was recorded. As delectable and sweet as the strawberry jam that is sonically described. Sometimes, things just taste better in the desert.

Animal Collective's definitive marriage of the pop song with the experimentation that's always characterised their sound. Every sound is so clear in the mix, unlike the often muddy, though cavernous, Merriweather Post Pavilion; and it never feels overcrowded or dense, despite its many layers. Avey and Panda's vocal deliveries soar above it all—the melodic backbone of each track, much in the manner of AC's work in the Sung Tongs era.

An accomplished and transitional sound in AnCo's discography that miraculously doesn't feel transitional at all, but the result of a focused and perceptive evolution.
Animal Collective - Feels
Feels—the moment where Animal Collective began to transcend the textural focus of their earlier work. Which is an odd assertion, mind you, given that this record's very title seems to hint at texture, the envelopment in a textural universe. But, like it or not, these are indie rock songs, especially in the LP's first half: take the the Modest Mouse yelping of "Grass", for instance. There's an explosiveness in the transition from verse to chorus ("Grass", "Did You See the Words", "Turn Into Something") that's very markedly of the indie rock world. And, for me, that seems to partially belie the atmosphere and texture otherwise created, rendering it merely quirky—instrumental to the record's sound perhaps, but not to its composition. But what makes AnCo unique, at least for as a listener, is the importance of texture, noise, and ambiance as points of convergence for an aesthetic practice (Cf. Meeting of the Waters EP). Even the catchiness of records like Strawberry Jam and MPP seems more a result of the interfacing of vocal inflections and harmonies with the production and sampling—their pushing and pulling against each other. But on Feels, the vocals and the instrumentals seem markedly separate, even separable, from each other; unlike early AnCo work, the voice is rarely treated as an instrument (except on a few tracks here, like "Bees"); and unlike later AnCo, the voice doesn't seem to interact deeply—and in an interconnected way—with the production.

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Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Even more cavernous than its complement, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Person Pitch, the second record from Noah Lennox, features tumbling, aqueous samples that seem to ripple underneath Panda's soaring voice, colouring a inter-personal and transcendent record that has no musical equivalent, to this day.

More metaphorically: A camera half-submerged in a lake. The spilling, dark waves, below; the graceful, spiraling birds, above: each a focal point in their contemporaneous clarity, each an interconnected part of the frame, each building off the other. Rather like the half-submerged figures on the album cover, I suppose. And like the waves of such a lake, each track feels inexorable, even immeasurable: they could start and end at any point. The division between "Comfy and Nautica" and "Take Pills", for example, feels totally arbitrary—though admittedly tastefully chosen. But that means that tracks like "Bros" can go on for 12 minutes without feeling even slightly bloated—for what this record resists, I think, is the concept of a track as anything other than a particularly tenacious musical movement or tendency. In this, I'm reminded of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and other post-rock / neo-classical music, in which the temporal dimension seems to implode entirely.

At first deceptively simple, Person Pitch gradually realises itself to be a record of unceasing layers, all of which are gorgeously cloaked in reverb and contextualized by Panda's buoyant voice. Which means we can choose to understand the record as either technically complex or accessibly direct—and, really, it's always already both. What seems most important, though, is that it's situated and patient, acutely aware of its own space so as to more sincerely transform our own.

Favorites: Comfy in Nautica, Take Pills, I'm Not, Search for Delicious, Ponytail
Least favorites: N/A
Animal Collective - Meeting of the Waters
Unlike other "situated" records in their discography, like Campfire Songs, Meeting of the Waters tries to use its (gorgeous!) field recordings in a reflexive way, so as to emphasise their prominence—as much as a traditional instrument—in composition... But where Campfire Songs blended together song and ambiance to the point of indistinguishability, Meeting of the Waters seems to keep these two elements oddly separate: as if they could only emphasise field recording salience by way of a track like "Amazonawas / Anaconda Opportunity" wherein songwriting feels submissive to these field recordings, rather than playing off of them, well, playfully...

While undeniably a step up from Centipede Hz or Painting With, then, and a beautiful and immersive listening experience in itself, this EP still doesn't find AnCo fully recapturing the magic of their early records... Still a personal favorite project of mine, though, and without a doubt, the best thing they've done, to date, since MPP.
Animal Collective - Centipede Hz
While buoyed by layered and meticulous songwriting, AnCo's highly-anticipated follow-up to 2009's masterpiece, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is the first record in their discography that doesn't seem part of their mappable and radically creative evolutionary trajectory—that is, from the tribal noise of HCTI to the freak folk of Sung Tongs, the indie rock of Feels, and the experimental pop of Strawberry Jam / MPP. Instead, Centipede Hz. seems conceived playfully and densely so as to play to AnCo's strengths in their current incarnation, returning to the style and presentation of Strawberry Jam, but battered with effects, noise, and polyrhythms so as to be far more muddy and unstable than that record's dry and headphone-curated crispness. Indeed, Centipede Hz, as Pitchfork writer Mark Richardson notes, is a record that needs to be played "through space", that feels too top-heavy and hectic for headphone listening. Opener "Moonjock" cycles through radio and static feedback, crashing cymbals, whirring production, and, as distinctively presented on SJ, Avey's yelping vocals; the track is almost a microcosm of the record to come: malcontent with itself, jumping from hook to dripping hook, equally flying by and crashing into, the ear. Repetition, so central to MPP and Person Pitch, seems to play a much lesser role in the music here, and ideas of linearity and motion, like a writhing frequency wave as described in the album's title, predominate.

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Animal Collective - Grass
"Grass" retains its idiosyncratic charm.
"Must Be Treeman" is a dissonant and even comedic ("Muffins!") experiment, well worth a listen.
"Fickle Cycle" is one of the better Feels-era B-sides, with a dramatic and energetic refrain.
Animal Collective - Keep + Animal Collective
While generally a somewhat fragmented and divergent listen, the Keep EP captures a surprisingly vivid portrait of the various facets of AnCo's sound, giving me a greater appreciation for just how essential each member of the collective is to their experimentation.

Favourites: Country Report + The Preakness
Least favourite: Call Home (Buy Grapes)
Animal Collective - Bridge to Quiet
With production that reminds me heavily of the Ark / Hollinndagain era, but with updated crunchy drum hooks and recurring vocal melodies (almost exclusively from Avey, by the way) recalling the pop catchiness of MPP, Bridge to Quiet feels like it should be a logical co-mingling between these two versions of the collective's sound... However, instead of interfacing these two elements together dynamically, most most tracks here, save Sux-Bier Passage, feel awkwardly apportioned between their pensive ambient/noise "build-up" and the "release" of the vocal hooks, unfortunately lending some of AnCo's most promising material in years a rather formulaic disposition...

While their last two studio albums failed to recapture the uniqueness that so characterised each new album of AnCo's creative run in the 2000s, Bridge to Quiet—with its juxtaposition of these two versions of the collective's sound—seems like it could just be a way forward for them, out of the shadow, finally, of MPP... But that sound, again, could use some more creative execution, particularly when it comes to vocal arrangements and percussion: I'd like to see more of an emphasis on progression rather than repetition, more linearity so as to match this EP's clearly inspired, whirring, and gorgeously turbulent production.

Favorites: Sux-Bier Passage, Bridge to Quiet
Least Favorite: Piggy Knows
Animal Collective - People
The limitations of the title track's premise becomes pretty evident after 5 or 6 listens. "Tikwid" is a beautiful ballad, though, that could have replaced "The Purple Bottle" on Feels.
Animal Collective - Painting With
A record so synthetically catchy as to be relentlessly exhausting, draining... While Centipede Hz was equally elliptically busy, it still maintained a sense of diversity and motion by way of continual transition; to the contrary, Painting With feels static and monotonous. Panda Bear seems the animal to have left the greatest mark on this record, but his hooks and melodies are neither given space to resonate (as on Person Pitch) nor are they tempered by Avey's eccentric and abrasive energy. Instead, they are backed by squealing synth samples from the Geologist that feel neither grounded in they way of pre-MPP material, nor particularly "live" in the way of CH. What's left is an LP that seems to have done away with everything that makes AnCo so special—they're no longer experimenting with neo-tribal noise or re-defining the acoustic guitar, but instead seemingly rendered impotent by their now infinite sampling possibilities.
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January 2021 Playlist