Coming Around on Animal Collective

Photo by feinsteinphotos

The hipster adoration of the band Animal Collective used to completely mystify me. What was so extraordinary about ten minute songs full of moaning and the occasional tribal drums? At least, that was the impression I got during my background listening of Feels, the one song I heard off Sung Tongs, and the completely uninformative and bizarre Pitchfork review for Here Comes the Indian, which undoubtedly goes into the annals of worst reviews ever.

But I’ve been coming around on them recently. It all started with the new Panda Bear album Person Pitch (PB is a member of AC, for those who weren’t aware). The album seems to be the frontrunner for Hipinion’s album of the year, and a few of my trusted friends and colleagues gave the album high praise too, so a few weeks ago I decided to revisit it. My first listen, in the wake of Pitchfork’s laudatory Best New Music labeling, was not a good listen, as I never got past the first track ‘Comfy in Nautica’.

Panda Bear lookin sharp, and by sharp, I actually mean wtf where do you get that kind of outfit from

And I can still see why I didn’t like it. ‘Comfy in Nautica’ is predominantly a cappella, and that doesn’t work well because Mr. Bear is not a good singer, and musically can’t phrase his lines at all. The awesomeness of Person Pitch, as I was about to discover, starts with the second track ‘Take Pills’, and doesn’t let go from there, and in fact, only gets better with the brilliant ‘Bros’ and the sublime ‘I’m Not’. I think the strength of Panda Bear’s music is his innovative use of interweaving loops, showcased in ‘Bros’ particularly. Opening the album with ‘Comfy in Nautica’ is a bit of mistake then, as it doesn’t show nearly any of that. Then again, thematically speaking, the song has to either be the opener or closer. But it can’t really be the closer, as ‘Ponytail’ is really perfect in that role. So maybe it does have to be the opener. My advice, then, goes out to potential listeners, who must try to grit their teeth and get through the first track, in order to experience the warm chewy and delicious center of the album.

Person Pitch album cover. I didn’t even notice the Panda in there until really recently. Also, the colorful pigeon on the right hand side is fantastic.

Fresh off Person Pitch then, I went back and revisited Feels, to discover that, in fact, it is actually fantastic. I always liked ‘Did You See the Words’ but I have a much better appreciation for it now, and ditto with ‘Turn Into Something’, so it’s nice that the bookends of the album are among my favorites, I always like it when that happens. I do still have some issues with the middle of the album, too much of the moaning and murky psychedelia. The exception though, is ‘Banshee Beat’, which I used to find too long and boring, but has quietly shown itself to be a really stunningly beautiful piece. Omg, now I’m even talking like an Animal Collective fan, referring to their songs as ‘pieces’ and labeling then as brilliant auteurs rising head and shoulders above the morass of boring indie rock guitar bands. Animal Collective fanatics really are pretentious and annoying like that. I hope I don’t turn into a Fiery Furnaces fan next, though this could be a stepping-stone…

I’m still working on the rest of Animal Collective’s back catalog. I listened to the first two-thirds of Sung Tongs but I only liked the first two songs, ‘Leaf House’ and ‘Who Could Win a Rabbit’. Those two songs, however, are fucking great, in a completely deranged but amazing way. I also watched the video for the song ‘Fireworks’ off their upcoming album Strawberry Jam. The video itself is pretty bad, it looks like the work of a high schooler who just decided to become a film studies major after watching Garden State. The song, though, is completely great, and has me really pumped for Strawberry Jam. Of course the Animal Collective disciples have already proclaimed it to be Album of the Century, but I think it’d be wise to reserve judgment, as that seems like an overstatement especially when the correct answer is actually still Ys.

Sorry, as good as these guys are now, they’re still getting pwned by the elven harpist

After giving Sung Tongs a few more tries, I plan on alternating between the just-leaked Strawberry Jam and their early album Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished. Based on what I’ve read, STGSTV sounds like a much better starting point for me than Here Comes the Indian which everyone seems to describe as a lot of moaning, and I just don’t like that side of Animal Collective yet. People in the know: is this accurate? Anyways, I’m glad that I’m finally ‘getting’ this band because they’d been frustrating me for awhile. I love it when things suddenly click like that.

Completely random story: In 11th grade, Mrs. Kim (Swarthmore alum, woop woop!) gave us a challenge. I don’t think there was any kind of context. But apparently, there are three words in the English language that have two meanings that contradict each other. The example she gave us in class was ‘cleave’ which can mean to split, or to stick together. Our challenge was to find the other two words.

For some reason, that challenge stuck with me. Late in my senior year in high school, I stumbled across the second word: ‘execute’. It can be used to start something (execute a command) or to end something (execute a prisoner). Am I right?

And suddenly, just now, I think I got the third! I’m studying for the GRE, and I found a word that I know well already, but just hadn’t thought too much about: ‘sanction’. To sanction something can be to accept and approve something, or it can be a penalty to restrict something. Am I right about that one? If so, woohoo!

After finding three though, I have to wonder if there’s more. Those can’t be the only three, can they? And that’s my challenge to you.


3 responses to “Coming Around on Animal Collective

  1. Strawberry Jam…. 😦
    Not to ruin anything right now, but I’ve been a fan of Animal Collective through Sung Tongs and Feels, but Jam just seems like an excessive amount of screaming modeled around slow arpeggios (save one track early on). I’m finding this one a little difficult to dig.

  2. ooh ooh i know one! anabasis?
    yay word of the day! =)

    THIS IS GREAT!!!! more incentive to learn vocabulary!

  3. Does raze/raise count? I don’t know, that’s off the top of my head.

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