AnCo’s 2016 album, Painting With, was a reaction to the growing popularity of reverby soundscapes in music; instead of creating ambient, experimental noises, the record focused on putting together more accessible, happier tunes. That album shows the band ‘settling down’ in a way - it’s a less experimental take on their sound, but one that is still unmistakably AnCo. So where does the band go after this? If you’d have asked me before, I would have guessed that they might continue Painting With - that their next album would be another collection of cheerier, poppier tunes. Well, in the most Animal Collective move possible, this album - Tangerine Reef - is about the sharpest turn away from what they were doing.
It’s surprising, to say the least. In their last album, the band wanted to avoid any reverby, ambient sounds by all means - and this next one is basically an ambient album. Tangerine Reef is a collaboration between AnCo (sans Panda Bear) and “Coral Morphologic” - a band(?) dedicated to creating art about coral, the underwater animals that inhabit the oceans. The band apparently aimed to create “aquascapes” with this album; essentially, it aims to create ocean-like atmospheres. Quite a change from their last album… so how is it?
Well, I want to say: I went into this album thinking it was going to be horrible. In fact, I secretly kinda wanted it to be horrible - Knewnie hated it, and it had the second lowest user score of all their albums; I expected these last two albums to be a slow descent into horrible music. But, I’ll be honest - Tangerine Reef is not bad. It’s certainly no MPP or Sung Tongs, but it’s… pretty solid? The band set out to create coral music, and I honestly believe that they did a pretty good job at that.
Regarding the instrumentals, this is the most ‘ambient’ Animal Collective has ever been. Nearly every song here is slow and muffled, and they usually consist of sparse, soft synths. It’s also surprising how… experimental this is? It seemed to me that after MPP, AnCo had begun to settle into one specific sound without much weird experimentation, but songs like “Coral Understanding” and “Palythoa” totally disprove that. Painting With was ‘minimalistic’, and so is Tangerine Reef, but in a totally different way. Painting With used few instruments and fairly normal song structures to limit the songs, while Tangerine Reef all but eliminates song structures. It’s almost like the two halves of Feels- the poppier songs and the slower songs - exemplified.
There are a few traits that are especially notable throughout this album - one is the vocals. Hearing the vocals on the first few songs here threw me back to early 2000s AnCo - they almost always consist of Avey’s muffled voice softly singing near-indecipherable lyrics. It’s actually an AnCo trait that fits really well with the atmosphere here - it gives the impression that I’m underwater, hearing something from around me. Another defining trait of this album is the very echoey, repetitive synths. Many of the tracks feature instrumentals consisting of a restrained melody over a quiet but continuous synth background. It does a good job at creating that relaxing vibe - the repetition of these synth parts adds to the songs.
It’s clear that this album is going for one very specific thing, and it has its good and bad moments in doing so. In terms of the good! I REALLY like the experimentation on this album. It’s something that I thought was missing just a bit from the last two, and every time there’s one of those strange AnCo moments, like the sudden switch to the louder “Coral by Numbers” or the strange little guitary bits in “Lundsten Coral”, it makes me happy. This album really does have some experimental moments - some of the tracks are a little atonal, and it almost reminds me of Yikii at parts. I also really enjoy the laid-back atmospheres here; they do partially succeed in making it sound watery.
In terms of the bad - well, it’s there. I can’t imagine this being anybody’s favorite AnCo album, and for good reason. This album’s one biggest issue is just: it’s too long. It’s WAY too long. Some of the songs here don’t really bring much to the table overall, and some of them just overstay their welcome. It’s almost impossible to listen through this album without getting bored once. Also - while I really do like the experimental bits where they differ from just the synthy soundscapes, it occasionally just doesn’t work. The wood-blocky noise in “Hip Sponge”, for example, gets annoying after a few seconds, and it lasts throughout the track. Occasionally some of the stranger synth noises detract from the relaxing atmosphere as a whole. Something else - the vocals are pretty hit or miss. When they hit, they fit in with the music perfectly, but when they miss they stand out. Songs like “Hip Sponge” and “Best of Times” were irritating in that the vocals almost sounded improvised in a messy way. Really, this album’s biggest issues were its going on too long and its inconsistencies.
In my honest opinion, Tangerine Reef is overhated. Sure, it’s one of AnCo’s worse albums, but it really does have its high points, and I welcome the return of their more experimental sound. Maybe what I liked most about this album was its promising sounds; beforehand, I had felt as if they’d been driven into a creative corner, but Tangerine Reef proves that the band is still capable of creating unique and beautiful music. This album isn’t great, and it’s forgettable in their discography overall, but it’s worth a listen if you want a taste of Animal Collective at their more ambient and relaxing. Who knows what they’ll make when Panda Bear returns?
It’s a nice ambient album, okay?
Favorite Songs: Hair Cutter, Buffalo Tomato, Coral Understanding (it sounds cool!), Coral Realization, Lundsten Coral, Palythoa
Least Favorite Songs: Inspector Gadget, Coral By Numbers, 🕶️🧽
*also Coral Realization is cool and it sounds a little like a warplane i didn’t know where else to say this*