𝗔𝗻𝗶𝗺𝗮𝗹 𝗖𝗼𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗲'𝘀 𝗗𝗶𝘀𝗰𝗼𝗴𝗿𝗮𝗽𝗵𝘆: 𝗦𝗽𝗶𝗿𝗶𝘁 𝗧𝗵𝗲𝘆'𝗿𝗲 𝗚𝗼𝗻𝗲, 𝗦𝗽𝗶𝗿𝗶𝘁 𝗧𝗵𝗲𝘆'𝘃𝗲 𝗩𝗮𝗻𝗶𝘀𝗵𝗲𝗱
And beginning my Animal Collective adventure is one of the most conflicting albums I’ve heard. Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished was incredibly difficult for me to rate, and to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure of it. When I come back to it, I sometimes think I rated it too high… and sometimes I think it should be much higher. The very polarizing reviews I’ve seen here prove that this isn’t just me - this album is a controversial one, and for good reason. This is certainly an interesting entry to the AnCo discography, especially considering that none of their subsequent albums really sound like it; it’s a truly unique experience.
When I first listened to this album a few months ago, I almost immediately thought that it would be a fairly low rating for me; the experimental aspects of the first three songs threw me off, and I really didn’t even like the more “accessible” parts, such as in “April and the Phantom”. What would the opposite of a front-loaded album be? Back-loaded? Because that’s what I consider this album to be. I really didn’t like most of the first four tracks (sorry Penny Dreadfuls fans), but the songs afterward were totally different; I’d even consider some of them to be some of my favorite AnCo songs I’ve heard. I usually try not to review albums track-by-track, but I think that going through this one ‘chronologically’, or as it plays, is the best way to explain my thoughts on it.
**Brief Apology: I wrote way too much in the following few paragraphs, as I attempt to write a breakdown of my feelings toward each track. I kinda summarize it at the end, so scroll down if you don’t want to read my rambling nonsense.**
The first song, “Spirit They’ve Vanished”, is such a strange choice to open the album with. It features some very mysterious lyrics over an almost painful-to-hear high-pitched sound. While I think the instrumental for this track is very cool sounding, that buzzing noise made me want to turn it off, and it lasts through the whole song. This was not a great introduction for me, and it made me wary of the proceeding 55 minutes. “April and the Phantom” also begins with a very harsh noise, this one reminiscent of TV static, but it quickly changes to a lighter, more dance-like instrumental. While this track is not as painful as the previous one, I originally found myself disliking it as well; the very loose-sounding production and songwriting turned me away. Coming back to it now, I actually quite like some parts, especially the sudden, dramatic sounds of the chorus, the Phantom’s interlude, and the screaming bridge. On my first listen, though, I was already feeling negative toward the album after these first two songs.
The third song, “Untitled”, is probably the most infamous off of the tracklist, and for good reason. It is a near three-minute instrumental consisting of chaotic sounds, supposedly meant to sound like screaming. I didn’t find this song as hard to listen to as the opener (the screaming wasn’t actually painful to hear), but it only seemed to confirm my beliefs that the album would not change from this theme. Following “Untitled” is “Penny Dreadfuls”, a track that many other AOTY users seemed to love… I agree that it was very different from the chaos and harsh noise of the first three tracks, but I actually didn’t really like this song. I could tell that it was meant to be a buildup of sound and emotion over 8 minutes, but I found this process to sound kinda… boring? Poorly done? The repetition of the same notes in Avey’s singing and the rest of the melody doesn’t change much, and while I did quite enjoy the ‘larger’ parts near the end, I didn’t really see what most of you seem to have seen in this song.
So at this point I’ve listened to the first four songs of the album, and while there were a few parts I enjoyed, not much of it has impressed me. I wonder how the next 6 songs will go?
Song 5: “Chocolate Girl”. Huh. So over time, and after listening to most of the rest of the AnCo discography, I can definitively say that this is one of, if not, my favorite Animal Collective songs. It may even be one of my favorite songs, in general. I didn’t feel this way immediately, but it is the one song on this album that I’ve come back to the most, and every time it has impressed me. The first four songs gave off a sort of ‘unfinished’ feeling, and while I believe that to be intentional, it occasionally made them feel like a mess. Not here! The odd, light mixing, the quiet vocals, the sudden changes in volume; this track seems to make them all work in a beautiful way. The first half of this song alternates between fun, dance-like sounds and lighter, more relaxed storytelling. The song then suddenly descends into a repeated ending verse with dream-like singing from Avey that becomes heavier and more dramatic with each repetition. I can’t really describe how amazing this song sounds with words. This song, in and of itself, is proof of Animal Collective’s amazing song and melody-writing skills; it’s so incredibly catchy and fun, but also somewhat emotional to hear. LISTEN TO THIS SONG! It’s so good!
“Everyone Whistling” is a short, one minute instrumental that has two halves; in the beginning it is loud and staticy, similar to the earlier tracks, but the second half is high-pitched, quieter, and dreamlike. I actually kinda see this short instrumental as representative of the album as a whole, in how it is divided into two separate sounds. “La Rapet” is a longer song, and it continues the fantasy-ish, dreamlike melodies of “Chocolate Girl”. This song alternates between faster, more urgent sounds, and slower, quieter parts. This song has some of my favorite singing; Avey’s high whispers compliment the quiet guitar parts really well here. The song fades out, and ends in a fairly relaxing way, contrasting with its louder opening.
“Bat You’ll Fly” is a five-minute song that comes next; it is very light and fun-sounding, which is especially conveyed through Avey’s muttered lyrics. By the way, whatever’s being said in this song is basically indecipherable. It’s hard to hear what’s being said, as two lines are often being sung at the same time, and even when you look up the lyrics, they appear almost nonsensical. This song also has three parts: the light, happy-sounding beginning part, the darker, slower second part of this, and the strange repetitions at the end. This song is another great example of AnCo’s incredible songwriting; each part sounds very different, but they’re all strung together wonderfully, and it sounds great as a whole! The next song is “Someday I’ll Grow to be as Tall as the Giant”, which is essentially an instrumental; the vocals are few and far between. This is, in my opinion, the best ‘instrumental’ off of the album (even if it doesn’t totally count) - it sounds about as dreamlike and mystical as its surrounding tracks.
And finally, “Alvin Row”. It seems to be generally agreed upon that this is the best song on the album, and while I disagree on that part… it is really amazing. The first minute is loud and annoying, reminiscent of early tracks, but the verses beginning with “Alvin Row” are all great, and as the buildup with “...Run!...” begins, it shows off a sound unique to this album. That one part (around 5:50) is one of the highest moments off the album, and the faster ending, while not quite as impressive, is quite a relaxing way to finish. The song ends with a sample from a kids’ audio story, which I think is actually a fairly good example of the imagery I got from the music on this album in general; it all sounds like it could be coming through a half-broken radio in a post-apocalyptic setting. The poor mixing and light vocals give off a feeling of loneliness, nostalgia, and melancholy. While I don’t know if “Alvin Row” is the best song on the album, I do see it as a great representation of the album as a whole, and it’s an incredible sound that I don’t really hear on anything else.
Technically, the album doesn’t sound ‘correct’ - the mixing is very poor (albeit mostly intentionally) on every song, the vocals are often nigh-impossible to hear, and songs are occasionally rudely interrupted by painfully loud bursts of noise. I think, however, that this all contributes to a very good theme in the album overall; the seemingly nostalgic and lonely emotion expressed throughout every song is carried really well by the interesting instrumentals and vocals. Moreover, this album has some incredible songwriting! While they are anything but conventional, some of the light melodies and structures of the songs are amazing and heart-stopping to hear. STG, STV is by no means perfect; there are even some moments (loud, abrasive noises) that made me want to stop listening. But it also has some of my favorite moments in music that I’ve ever heard.
If you want to get into Animal Collective, I can’t honestly recommend this as a first listen; it isn’t really representative of their usual sound. But do listen to this eventually. Sorry for writing so much. <3
Favorite Songs: Chocolate Girl, La Rapet, Bat You’ll Fly, Alvin Row
Least Favorite Songs: Spirit They’ve Vanished, Untitled
** I, once again, apologize for writing so much. <3, Windy