avey tare & panda bear

Animal Collective, Day 2: Feels

In 2004, chagrin was a probable symptom of being an Animal Collective fan, but it was a justified feeling, since AnCo shows were mostly comprised of material that was then-unknown to the public. Back in October last year, in honor of the tenth anniversary of their album Feels, the group uploaded a live recording of theirs at the legendary Chapel Hill venue Cat’s Cradle; from 11/18/04, the setlist was based on performing Feels material, even though the album’s release wasn’t due for another year. The recording is fraught with warped vocals, drones, and obfuscated samples – rendering these kinds of motifs tends to be the job of Geologist, and he was presumably responsible for them here – which are live psychedelic enhancements to music that was becoming more familiar with each subsequent show.

By Feels’ official debut, on 10/18/05, Geologist and Deakin had rejoined Animal Collective. The two had briefly left after 2003’s Here Comes The Indian, stranding Avey Tare and Panda Bear as a duo on 2004’s Sung Tongs, the duo’s effort that immediately precedes Feels chronologically, in terms of full-lengths. Tongs’ rampant, manic acoustic aerobics integrated AnCo into the “freak folk” movement, which features peers such as Akron/Family and Vashti Bunyan – the latter of whom they collaborated with on the 2005 EP Prospect Hummer, just months before Feels’ release.

[Chapel Hill live recording]

With Avey and Panda itching to expand above and beyond their freaky, minimalist folk on Sung Tongs, Feels was like their ecstasy: mists of reverb are ubiquitous, the scales and notes of riffs hum interminably, tempos drift along however they please. It’s not a complete departure, though, sounding just as freakish and bipolar as Sung Tongs. Throughout Feels, Avey shifts between soft baritone and cavalcades of shrills in a flash, reaching the apex of a crescendo just milliseconds after he was at the nadir, and the overall instrumentation swerves between jangling noise and spacious euphony. But at its core, amidst all of its eccentricity, Feels is a love story. Avey Tare, as insane of a singer as he sounds, is capable of loving – and, according to his tropes, is capable of overcoming breakup. The album title is accurate: this is an installation of Avey’s “feels”.

When Avey sings of a romantic downfall, he paints a surreal, yet allegorical tale: “Look we’ve had similar stitches / Look we have similar frowns / Do the elderly couples still kiss and hug and grab their big wrinkly skin?” (from “Did You See The Words”). How long does love last? Obviously not too long for Avey, but then how do grandparents and other elders manage to maintain a bond? Does their love ever die out? From “Did You See The Words” on up to “The Purple Bottle,” Avey is at his most neurotic, and that’s encapsulated via the ebullient manicness of the music. His romantic neuroses and desperation are most frank on “The Purple Bottle”: “Can I call you just to hear you? / Would you care?”

There’s a change of style and emotion by “Bees” – it’s from that track to “Loch Raven” that Feels is spacious euphony. The chords of koto swipes drag out for long intervals as “Bees” progresses, frosted with subdued moans (that type of sound gets vocalized by Panda Bear), bubbly high-end guitar, and piano cascades. Open-endedness and calm are key: “I’ll take my time / You’ll take your time.” Instead of putting all of his mental energy into his ex – obsessing over what she’s currently up to, who’s her new partner, etc. – Avey’s letting go. Excessive thinking is pointless and unfruitful, it doesn’t rekindle anything, and Avey’s persona realizes this. Personal calamities are inevitable, as noted on “Banshee Beat.” Tying back to the album title: “That either way you look at it you have your fits / I have my fits but feeling is good.”

Feels’ tracklist acts juxtapositionally, with a notable dichotomy between the first four songs and the following four. In this way, it symbolizes relationships: the first suite is a representation of companionship and the second is one of solitude, as in a relationship with oneself. With “Bees,” “Banshee Beat,” “Donald Duck,” and “Loch Raven,” the band is soundest, the result of a lyrical and sonic emphasis on aloneness and seeking comfort within the outdoors. Avey sings of bees, swimming pools, and farms; he even recommends rural living to his ex: “What you need’s a happy farm / With happy goats and sheep” (from “Daffy Duck”). Closer “Turn Into Something” summates both faces of the tracklist: the first part being jamboree and the latter part, which concludes the album, being pristine ambience.

Animal Collective has been a band reliant on nature-themed aesthetics, and they’ve cultivated an idiosyncratic magic because of their taught bond with the organic. Feels is AnCo’s fusion of human grievances and nature’s zen; sometimes neurotic and other times calm. Ten years on, the album sparks a subconscious urge to throw away the smartphone, forget that ephemeral bullshit, and become one with the forest and countryside.

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Golden Gal by Animal Collective

Painting With is experimental psych band Animal Collective’s tenth studio LP. This time with a line up that includes Avey Tare(David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), and Geologist (Brian Weitz), Deakin (Josh Dibb) sat this one out recording his own solo album. I’ve been a big fan of the band for awhile, enjoying listening to the evolution of their sound in albums like Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion. Though I’d dug their previous effort Centipede Hz, it was a little cluttered musically and ultimately didn’t hold up to previous efforts from the band. Still, I’m always excited for a new Animal Collective release because they’re a band forever growing, expanding and looking to find something new but still feels true to Animal Collective.

This time around the band was heavily influenced by visual arts and painting whether it’d be dadaism, modern art or cave drawings, hence the title Painting With. You can definitely hear that come out in the music, with a sound crafted by Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist that’s often a collage of squishy, bouncy and fluid sounds that are densely splattered across the mix. Take that and mix it with the eccentric exuberance presented by Animal Collective and you get what is the core what they’re doing on this album. The best and funnest example of this is the albums energetic opener, “Floridada” which describes taking hometown pride a little too far. The album never gets more exciting from the opener, although “Lying On The Grass” comes close with Avey and Panda Bear’s vocals cascading around the track and an equally bouncy groove complete with effects and even a horns coming in. Golden Gal“ is another highlight, the springy, warped track is catchy ode to strong women.

There are influences and flaws in execution on Painting With that keep that album from impressing the way Animal Collective have in the past. Avey Tare and Panda generally the two main songwriters and vocal performers in the group and much like on Centipede Hz Avey dominates this album in both songwriting and performance. The best songs on the album are the ones that he wrote or his vocals take the lead. He brings a level of energy and charisma to songs that’s just winning. Noah Lennox, on the other hand, feels like he’s a songwriting slump and his performances don’t feel nearly as urgent. This is somewhat carried over from Panda Bear’s solo album Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper a project I thought was okay but had tracks that tended to stagnate structurally. This shows up here on tracks like “Spilling Guts” and “Summing The Wretch” where Panda’s vocals has a sort of a choppy staccato delivery and the tracks are generally linear and they really don’t add much to the album. I often look for Panda bring a level of melody and pop sensibility to counterbalance Avey’s vocal eccentricities and I don’t feel it’s here.

Animal Collective were also inspired by bands like the Ramones to make shorter to the point songs and though it sounds like a good idea paper to take the magic of Animal Collective and cram it, I don’t think it works out for the best here. Tracks like “The Burglars” and “Verticals” are nice because the energies there and the sound is intriguing but they miss the mark on some of the more flatter tracks that don’t do much within the 2-3 minute time frame. They’re a band often known to take two different sections of music and fuse it to make a smooth glorious whole and that’s mostly absent from this album. I respect the fact they’re trying new techniques but the boundless wonder of songs like “Applesauce” and “Monkey Riches” is no where to be found here.

All and all, Painting With is a good album but by Animal Collective standards? It’s probably their  worst album in over a decade. An Animal Collective is always a sonic journey and Painting With presents cool sounds but they just never take me anywhere, not this time. 

But you never know what the next album will bring with Animal Collective, so I’ll no doubt be interested in what they do next.

You can find more of Patrick’s writing here

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FloriDada by Animal Collective

It’s been over three years since we’ve gotten a studio album from Animal Collective, and based on the video for FloriDada, the first single off their upcoming album Painting With, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d spent most of that time on a daily LSD regimen in a desert commune somewhere. Indeed, while meth may be the drug most stereotypically associated with Florida, this video about the Sunshine State goes a decidedly psychedelic route, with no frame left un-technicolored. There are anatomy textbook-inspired human forms in varying states of contact; the visual rendering of the peninsula looks even more phallic than usual as it wiggles back and forth, making waves in the sea around it.

Like many Animal Collective tracks, FloriDada is at first almost too weird and cacophonous to take. By the pre-chorus, though, you’re locked into its rhythm, and by the chorus it’s infectious. In the vast call-and-response vocal collage, Avey Tare and Panda Bear acknowledge the merits of other sites around the globe, concluding before each whimsical chorus that none of them are as–beautiful? relaxing? trippy?–as Florida. (Not the place I would pick for such a superlative, but fair enough.) FloriDada is ultimately a great track, one that will stick in your head and get Animal Collective fans amped for the new record. The video, though, if it doesn’t give you a seizure–no, seriously: there’s a warning for people with epilepsy–may have you tiptoeing backwards out of the room, wondering whose druggy fever dream you just stumbled upon.