ACTUALLY, IF YOU haven’t picked up on these guys by now, you haven’t been surfing the online music blogosphere, which has been blathering about this loose avant-garde troupe that consists of three, sometimes four, childhood Baltimore pals, now transplanted to Brooklyn, Manhattan, Lisbon and Washington, DC, for some time now, whose influence has been felt in breakthrough bands like MGMT.
Noah Lennox (Panda Bear for the doodles drawn on his first set of songs), David Portner (Avey Tare for “tearing apart” his first name), Brian Weitz (The Geologist for the miner’s hat he wears on-stage to see all his gear) and currently on-sabbatical Josh Dibb (Deakin after his alias Conrad Deacon) have actually been making music together for almost a decade, releasing eight wildly varying studio albums (and a live set), the last five under the nom de art Animal Collective.
With their latest, the trio has poked its head into the mainstream with what their rabid fans consider their most accessible work yet, a stunning potpourri of influences ranging from the lush Beach Boys harmonies-meet-Steve Reich/Philip Glass-style minimalist pulse of ‘My Girls’ and ‘Also Frightened’ to the Eno-esque electronic squiggles and Doors-like carnival calliope of ‘Daily Routine’, the jagged clatter of ‘Lion in a Coma’, the plinking Suicide-like toy keyboards and horror film soundtrack of ‘No More Runnin” and the Afro-pop layering of ‘Brother Sport’.
While many compare the new album to Radiohead or fellow Brooklyn experimentalists TV on the Radio, the band’s cult status, conceptual savvy and penchant for elaborate live shows, masks and assumed identities is more reminiscent of Bay Area DIY techno-cultists the Residents. Known for a communal, avant-garde approach, Panda, Avey and The Geologist are anything but intellectual on this set of body-rocking dancefloor beats, even if it does sound like it was recorded in what they refer to as a “submerged lagoon… like a coral reef.”
The pneumatic wheez of ‘Summertime Clothes’ reveals an erotic undertow, with lyrics like “Seems that one night I would string to my sheets/Forehead is leaking/But hey she squeaks,” the Jesus & Mary Chain echo chamber wall in ‘Bluish’ oozes with seductive sensuality, while ‘Guys Eyes’ is a Devo-like tale of sexual compulsion and onanism: “I want to do just what my body needs to… I want to show to my girl that I need her/If I could just purge all the urges that I have and keep them for you.” In ‘Brother Sport’, they’re even more explicitly orgasmic: “You’re halfway to fully grown/You’ve got a real good shot/You’ve got so much inside/Let it come right out.”
Elsewhere, it’s a tale of bohos gone bourgeois, with Panda Bear dreaming of domestic security in ‘My Girls’: “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things/Like a social status/I just want four walls/and adobe slabs for my girl,” says the married father of a daughter. And, with real estate values plummeting, now may be the right time to buy. “Make sure my kid’s got a jacket/Keys and coat and shoes and hat/Strap a stroller to my back/Bouncing along every crack,” they sing in the self-described ‘Daily Routine’, while lamenting, “Friends I once had/Turn their thoughts away from me” in ‘No More Runnin”.
For Animal Collective, despite their desire for family, it’s still all about the work, as in the stilted mash-up grind of ‘Lion in a Coma’, where they come closest to puncturing the dream-like setting to reveal their raison d’etre: “Is there no reason it can be/The way it was musically/My three best friends so casually/Just letting go so joyfully.”
Their music may be futuristic, but Animal Collective is rooted in good, old-fashioned American verities.
© Roy Trakin, 23 January 2009