Artist Spotlight: Animal Collective

They e-hype for Animal Collective’s latest album (Merriweather Post Pavilion) was deafening.  Indeed, it is a very good album, but the band seems to fit within this hype more often lately.  Many smarmy websites will offer drooling praise for the rock/folk group.

I don’t really agree with that assessment.  I feel that, while Animal Collective presents some great songs, they have never made a particular complete album.  Let’s take a look at the problems and a potential solution for those who can’t wrap their heads around the band.

Albums Without Unity: Beginning

The four most recent Animal Collective releases all feature quite similar faults, primarily in the pacing.  We’ll start with the first two songs on each:

Sung Tongs – “Leaf House” and “Who Could Win a Rabbit”

Feels – “Did You See the Words” and “Grass”

Strawberry Jam – “Peacebone” and “Unsolved Mysteries”

Merriweather Post Pavilion – “In the Flowers” and “My Girls”

In each case, the hook is pretty quick and very potent.  The wild abandon in most tracks and uniform up-tempo feel are great to start an album.

“Who Could Win a Rabbit,” “Grass,” “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Did You See the Words” all delve into the fast-paced action-response insanity that makes Animal Collective so loveable.

“Leaf House,” “Peacebone,” “In The Flowers,” and “My Girls” are all showstoppers, full of genuine emotion and inventive musical phrasing.  These aren’t the fast-paced burst of the other early tracks, but impress equally.

If each album were to follow up with similar songs, I estimate that Animal Collective would be vastly more popular than they currently are.  Unfortunately, these starting songs aren’t indicative of things to come.

Albums Without Unity: Lost in the Middle

As each of the albums proceeds, it is inevitable that we run into a very slow, boring song.  I realize that Animal Collective enjoys “exploring” music, but they certainly don’t achieve Sonic Youth levels of creativity.

On Feels, the first offender is “Flesh Canoe.”  After two bright, powerful tracks, the band decides to derail and dabble in a slow, textured song.  Shifting guitars and pianos can be fun, but here the plodding pace and eventually-unimaginative sounds don’t manage to charm.  Four minutes is more than enough.  It’s really unfortunate, as the next song is another highlight (“The Purple Bottle”).

Sung Tongs also falls victim to boring sections, with a song that is almost exactly like “Flesh Canoe.”  “The Softest Voice” has similar nearly-oriental guitar noises that are too slow and draw out for far too long.  Also, the 12-minute “epic” “Visiting Friends” fall victim to a drawn out sense of boredom.

Strawberry Jam and Merriweather never feature the same distinct low point, but still don’t hold strong through the middle.  “#1” seems out of place on Strawberry, disrupting the flow created by the songs before and after.  On Merriweather, all tracks from “Daily Routine” through “No More Runnin” just don’t stand up to the high standards of “My Girls” and “Brother Sport.”  This leaves a kind of empty feeling: how did the band achieve such heights and then (relatively) ignore the rest of the album?

The Best of Animal Collective

Les Savy Fav presented an interesting option to fans: a collection of singles presented as a proper album (Inches).  I feel that this is the real answer for those not familiar with Animal Collective – a greatest hits album.  Here is my list of the best Animal Collective songs, presented in some sort of album order:

  1. Leaf House (Sung Tongs)
  2. Who Could Win a Rabbit (Sung Tongs)
  3. The Purple Bottle (Feels)
  4. Peacebone (Strawberry Jam)
  5. Did You See the Words (Feels)
  6. My Girls (Merriweather Post Pavilion)
  7. Grass (Feels)
  8. Chores (Strawberry Jam)
  9. Sweet Road (Sung Tongs)
  10. Also Frightened (Merriweather Post Pavilion)
  11. Brother Sport (Merriweather Post Pavilion)
  12. Fireworks (Strawberry Jam)

These generally faster songs exhibit the sort of joy that I associate with Animal Collective.  The creative insanity through each track is a bonus feature.

By taking this dose of Animal Collective, you can enjoy the band without having to face the insane boring and lame portions seen on their albums.

After that, I’d advise going after Merriweather Post Pavilion and Strawberry Jam.  They’re the most enjoyable whole albums in the Animal Collective catalogue, and provide the most musical bang for your buck.

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3 comments on “Artist Spotlight: Animal Collective

  1. Lamber says:

    I don’t think you really “get” Animal Collective

  2. Matt says:

    I find Animal Collective to be an interesting freak/folk/experimental group, but I also think that others do the ambient noises much better (Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, the more exploratory noises of Grizzly Bear).

    I think that’s what I try to convey here – while they provide good music, I don’t really see the slower stuff as their forte. If someone can honestly argue in support of “Flesh Canoe” and its placement on Feels (these are both necessary in the discussion of an album), then I would ask them to set the joint down and do it again.

    Fearless expansion of music is certainly encouraged, but it is worth noting that not everyone will be on board with the whole of where that goes.

  3. Matt says:

    That said, I do respect what AC does, and I thoroughly enjoy their top-notch stuff. That’s why I provide the list of best songs – to point out the insane high quality offered by the band, even if listening through their albums can be frustrating.

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