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You can't talk about 21st century underground music without bringing up Animal Collective. One of the most prolific bands of the 2000's (although they are still recording and releasing material), four high school friends managed to be a major factor in the sounds of modern experimental music. And with rumours of a new record around the corner, it seems as good a time as any to help newer listeners understand what they're all about. While their discography is diverse and can be polarizing to the uninitiated, it's also extremely rewarding and worth a listen for fans of independent music, or anyone that just wants to try something new.
Paddington Band, an Animal Collective precursor (1995)
Panda Bear (1999)
Animal Collective is any combination of their four members: Avey Tare, Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), Brian Weltz (Geologist), and Josh Dibb's (Deakin). It's worth noting that Avey Tare and Panda Bear have been on every record released under the Animal Collective moniker. Their music began with a friendship between Lennox and Dibb's in second grade, eventually expanding to include Tare and Weltz in high school. While in high school, inspired by their love of horror movies and bands like Pavement and the Cure, Portner, Dibb, and Weitz formed a band called Automine and released an EP in 1995, Paddington Band .
After high school Lennox would release his self titled solo album and first under the official Panda Bear Avatar - Panda Bear in 1999. No longer in distrubution, Panda Bear is very hard to find outside of digital mediums.
Portner's album, Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished is often considered the first true Animal Collective album because it is
the first full length collaboration between the group's lead songwriters Avey Tare and Panda Bear.
Originally planned to be an Avey Tare solo album, he asked his friend Noah to perform drums and was so
impressed by his "perfect percussion" that he added his name to the project. The album starts off with
the noisy, feedback-loop driven "Spirit They've Vanished." The track showcases a major theme that is present
throughout the project, the juxtaposition of noise and melody creating something beautiful. Most of the
tracks on here are pop songs masked in eerie instrumentation and soaked in atmosphere, giving the album
a unique sound unlike many others. The harsh-twee sound is created by Avey Tare's boyish yelping backed by
organ, piano, acoustic guitar, and complex brushed drumming. The record ends with the 12-minute
post-classical masterpiece, "Alvin Row." Multiple sections combine in a cacophonous explosion that
is one of the highlights of Animal Collective's entire discography.
Standout Tracks: "April and the Phantom," "Untitled," "Chocolate Girl," "Someday I'll Grow to Be As Tall As the Giant," "Alvin Row."
Soon after, the two reunited with Geologist and released two albums as a combination of the three, Danse Manatee and Hollinndagain, the latter a live album with mostly original material.
Danse Manatee (2001)
Sung Tongs (2004)
Geologist joins Avey and Panda in an exploration of extreme frequencies that turned off critics upon release and continues to perplex listeners to this day. Sharp highs and trembling lows make Danse Manatee one of the most difficult Animal Collective records to fully appreciate (Hell, I'm not sure I totally get it yet). But hidden behind the abrasiveness is a collection of quite beautiful songs. Focusing even more on noise than their previous album, Danse Manatee can take a while to get, but when it happens, you'll be glad you listened.
Technically a live album, Hollinndagain features original music from around the time of the Danse sessions; it even features a reworked version of a track from it, "Lablakely Dress". The closest thing to full on drone Animal Collective has ever done, the album starts off with two monster tracks both coming in at more than 10 minutes each, "I See You Pan" and "Pride and Fight." After 22 minutes of music, "Forest Gospel" starts with insane tribal drum pounding that turns into a hand-clapped backed chant. The rest of the tracks blend the experimentation found in Danse Manatee with drone and tribal music to form an energetic, psychedelic trip.
Dibb joined them in 2003 for Campfire Songs and Here Comes the Indian, which was the first album released under the name Animal Collective. These first projects represented a more experimental and abrasive side of the band that they would tone down for 2004's mostly acoustic Sung Tongs.
Sung Tongs builds on the sound formed during the band's early projects but adds a pop sensibility and excellent songwriting to form one of their best works to date. From the psychedelic wall of sound "Visiting Friends" to the drum circle chanting on "We Tigers," Sung Tongs showcases the development of the band's sound and the variety that comes with it. The choice to record the album exclusively while in red lighting is conveyed through the warm, almost comfy sound on tracks like "The Softest Voice" and "Kids on Holiday." I'm not the only one to think Sung Tongs is a masterpiece, it has received near universal acclaim, appearing on many year end and decade end best of lists.
Standout Tracks: "Leaf House," "Who Could Win a Rabbit," "Winter's Love," "Kids on Holiday," "Visiting Friends," "We Tigers."
Noah Lennox's (Panda Bear) Person Pitch (2007)
Feels is easily the most appropriately named album ever conceived. The sheer love, heartbreak, and joy on songs like “Did You See The Words,” “The Purple Bottle,” and “Banshee Beat” turn it into a rollercoaster of emotion that ends with “Turn Into Something”. Feels is not a 1-sided album however and the excellent songwriting and lyrics show that Animal Collective have a deep part of them and can sing about something other than kaleidoscopic gibberish. The most overtly rock album in the band’s catalogue, Feels features effect-laden guitar leads, piano playing from Kria Brekkan of the Icelandic band Mum, and of course Panda Bear’s drumming, which is flaunted on “The Purple Bottle” and “Loch Raven.”
In March of 2007 Panda Bear released what is widley regarded as his magnum opus; Person Pitch . While this article aims to put focus solely on Animal Collective's releases know that Person Pitch is easily one of the most influential and enjoyable experimental pop and psychedelia electronic albums ever released.
Fan of the band or not, chances are you've seen the album covers for the next two albums. While Animal Collective had always enjoyed praise from critics, commercial success did not come until 2007 with the release of Strawberry Jam which reached number 72 on Billboard's album chart (this metric was still relevant at the time). Merriweather Post Pavilion was released in early 2009. Following another successful single, “My Girls,” Merriweather peaked at number 14 on Billboard’s album chart and was eventually certified Silver by BPI. Both albums are considered essential in the canon of the band and are continuously referenced in best of lists spanning the decade and associated genres.
Strawberry Jam (2007)
Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)
2007’s Strawberry Jam was apparently inspired by airplane food. The story goes that Lennox and the band were on a plane flying to Greece, when an attendant gave him a packet of strawberry jam with his toast.
After inspecting the packet he told the other members that he wanted their next album to sound like the way strawberry jam looks, “That is to say, something that's really synthetic and sharp and futuristic looking,
but also tangy and sweet, almost in a kind of aggressive way in terms of the way it tastes.” After listening to the opening track on here, “Peacebone,” you can see that the band certainly achieved the aesthetic
they were going for. The songs all sound clean and sharp, with not much of the lo-fi recording that was present on previous recordings. Strawberry Jam also features some of the best tracks Animal Collective has ever done,
“For Reverend Green,” “Fireworks,” and “#1.”
Standout Tracks: "For Reverend Green," "Fireworks," "#1," "Winter Wonderland," "Cuckoo Cuckoo," "Derek"
Often considered the group’s magnum opus, Merriweather Post Pavilion was the second breakthrough album, this time bringing them relatively large commercial success as well as being one of the most critically
acclaimed albums of the 2000’s. The album was spearheaded by the success of the singles “My Girls,” and “Brothersport,” which were both major successes in the world of underground music.
While sometimes criticized by hardcore fans for being “too poppy,” the album retains the groups unique sounds while also appealing to a wider audience.
With almost no negative fluctuations in quality, Merriweather is also one of the group’s most polished and smooth efforts and is a wonderful entry point for someone looking to get into the band.
Standout Tracks: "In the Flowers," "My Girls," "Summertime Clothes," "Daily Routine," "Bluish," "Guys Eyes," "Taste," "Brothersport"
Centipede Hz (2012)
The groups most recent album, 2012’s Centipede Hz marked somewhat of a return to the band’s original sound, with less samplers being used and more live instrumentation.
This sudden change alienated many newer fans who had only heard Merriweather Post Pavilion, as well as critics who criticized the album’s dense and sometimes claustrophobic sound.
It still gathered fairly positive reviews that praised the concept behind the album and some excellent singles as well as deeper cuts.
The album was also a commercial success, charting nearly as high as their previous album. Portner and Lennox shared songwriting responsibilities with Dibb, who made his lead vocal and writing debut on the album,
contributing the song “Wide Eyed”.
Standout Tracks: "Moonjock," "Today’s Supernatural," "Applesauce," "Wide Eyed," "New Town Burnout," "Mercury Man," "Amanita"
Full Discography (solo and as a group):
On July 15th, Animal Collective announced that they had finished recording of their newest album. Although no official details have been announced, it's safe to say that thousands of fans are eagerly awaiting it's release. Let's hope it lives up to the hype.