The Full Picture: Animal Collective

This is the second edition of a new series of posts here on Airwaves. In The Full Picture we will look over a notable alternative artist’s entire discography and note how the sound evolved from album to album, as well as pointing out each album’s best tracks using the magical powers of hindsight. This edition’s band is a bunch of dads who make extraordinary electronic music: Animal Collective

Animal Collective- Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished
Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished (2000)

The earliest Animal Collective release has the chaotic and experimental features that the band has become known for today with far less production and pleasantness present. Animal Collective does some weird things in their music, it’s a part of their appeal, and on Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished things are pretty close to being at the extreme end of that spectrum. There’s some very ambitious long tracks, and many which are difficult listens, but the project is consistently interesting in laying down the groundwork for the band which at this point was only Panda Bear and Avey Tare.

Track Picks: “Bat You’ll Fly”, “April and the Phantom“, “Penny Dreadfulls

Animal Collective- Danse Manatee
Animal Collective- Danse Manatee (2001)

Geologist joins the band at this point as Danse Manatee takes the band which was near the extreme in weirdness another step closer. This is the sort of album which could spark a dumb debate in a room about ‘what music actually is’ because the tracks are gradual, experimental, and seemingly random and uncategorized. At this point with the band it becomes pretty clear that although the lyrics can be fascinating and mean something that the ultimate meaning of the song has to be something beyond them because of their cryptic nature. The music gets interpreted as a mindset rather than a meaning from my viewpoint, and Danse Manatee can be a difficult viewpoint to adopt.

Track Picks: “Essplode”, “In the Singing Box“, “Bad Crumbs

Animal Collective- Campfire Songs (2003)

Honestly I feel awful doing this in a post, but I don’t know enough about this album to discuss it and it’s not in my iTunes music library. I’ve read that it compares to the other early works are mentioned in this post very much, and that’s discouraged me from prioritizing going back for a listen because I prefer Animal Collective from Sung Tongs onward.

Animal Collective- Here Comes the Indian
Animal Collective- Here Comes the Indian (2003)

Some of the sounds on Here Comes the Indian are downright scary to listen to, like the track “Panic” which gets placed in the middle of the album and features the vocals of a yell being repeated for the first two and a half minutes of the track. The chaos feels dark and potentially threatening on this album leading you to wonder what exactly is it that they are trying to portray to you through their music here. There was a defined fan base for the band at this point who focused upon the band’s strengths: Their energy, their originality, and their freedom to turn whatever they’d like into music, but it’s an incredibly difficult sound for me even as a self-proclaimed fan of the band

Track Picks: “Native Belle”, “Infant Dressing Table“, “Panic

Animal Collective- Sung Tongs (2004)
Animal Collective- Sung Tongs (2004)

A very important album to understand in the context of their discography, Sung Tongs is the first time that you could look at an Animal Collective and it’s importance doesn’t lie in it’s odd and experimental methods. Those qualities didn’t disappear, in fact they still haven’t in the band’s modern releases, but on Sung Tongs the weirdness all of a sudden becomes a pleasant listen and surprisingly understandable. Compare “You Could Win a Rabbit” to any song that came beforehand and the difference is astounding, and “Kids on Holiday” is a track where the focus is actually turned onto the vocals over a dull guitar strum. This is the birthing of a more accessible version of Animal Collective, and this is the album which a lot of people should trace back to when trying to place where their favorite Animal Collective sounds came from.

Track Picks: “Kids on Holiday”, “Who Could Win A Rabbit“, “Sweet Road

Animal Collective- Feels (2005)
Animal Collective- Feels (2005)

I introduced Sung Tongs in the way that I did because the good qualities on that album are what blossomed into the three next albums, the three albums which would grow to define the band and make them enormously relevant in current music. It was harder to actually notice that in 2004, but once Feels came out the entire feeling of the music changed drastically to create nearly euphoric music in comparison to the attacking and occasionally frightening early works. There’s also a gigantic step forward on this album for song writing ability as the narratives became easier to follow and more proven to be enjoyable, adding in more lyrics to the music and presenting the experimental qualities within the song rather than the experimental qualities being the song. It’s an Animal Collective song which you can sing along to, and it gives you a few of the absolute best Animal Collective songs out there in the hypnotic “Banshee Beat” and the fan-adored love song which was meant to sample Stevie Wonder, “The Purple Bottle”

Track Picks: “The Purple Bottle”, “Banshee Beat“, “Did You See the Words

Animal Collective- Strawberry Jam
Animal Collective- Strawberry Jam (2007)

“Bonefish”. Strawberry Jam is an extremely fun and interesting album from the second those words are uttered as this album probably serves as the best evidence for the benefits of the band’s chaotic approach. How else could the band make “Reverend Green” sound like it was attacking you after opening up the track with a garbled statement that ‘the sound which you are about to hear are those of a big-foot creature in it’s natural environment’? It’s wonderful, but they also show an immense amount of maturity in songs like “Winter Wonder Land” which is a pretty pop song that clocks in at 2:45. It took a long time for it to happen, but after routinely dedicating songs to be ten minute long experiments we finally see a version of the band which shows it’s beauty in a less demanding way making it easier to relate to. “Do you not believe in fantasy because it gets you down?”- A question which displays the absolute joy of the band and begs you to embrace it. Strawberry Jam is also the home to my (and many others’) favorite Animal Collective song: “Fireworks”.

Sidenote here: the band likes to try to hide their meanings sometimes via song titles/lyrics, for instance the song title is “For Reverend Green” but when the statement is actually stated it sounds like it morphs into “For ever in green!”. This is purposeful and probably meant to create a nice dual effect for the music leaving room for the song’s true meaning to be explored for by the listener.

Track Picks: “Fireworks”, “For Reverend Green“, “Winter Wonder Land

Animal Collective- Merriweather Post Pvilion (2009)
Animal Collective- Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)

Merriweather Post Pavilion(MPP) is as cool as it’s album artwork suggests it is. A really interesting thing happened for the band as Deakin decided to a break following his prominent role in playing guitar on Strawberry Jam (His introduction to the band went unmentioned in this articles because I prefer to focus on the sound changing album to album rather than band personnel if I can). This meant that the band was going to lose a lot of the bite that it had found success with on that album, and it lead them to choose to try to create their own brand of electronic soft-pop. Synthesizers and samples with a heavy reliance on Panda Bear, who’s recent release as a solo project named Person Pitch is the most similar release that any of the musicians within the group could claim to MPP in their solo work. There’s bliss and comfort in the tracks as universal desires get revealed in the lyrics; “I really want to show to my girl that I want her”, “This wilderness needs to get right out of my clothes and get into my bedroom”, and the powerful opening lines to “My Girls”: “There isn’t much that I feel I need/ A solid soul and the blood I bleed/ But with a little girl/ and by my spouse/ I only want/ A proper house”. It’s this quality where I like the Beach Boys comparison for Merriweather Post Pavilion because it’s placed in a world where nothing is wrong. It’s all ideals, and that makes it seem perfect. Another aspect that I really enjoy is the role of family on this album, as part of the “Daily Routine” is to make that your kid has his jacket, and “Brother Sport” (Support Your Brother) exists as a plea for Matt Lenox, brother of Panda Bear who isn’t a member of Animal Collective, to “open up your throat, and let the […] old time go”. This album is gorgeous and a must-listen.

Top Tracks: “Guy’s Eyes”, “My Girls“, “Brother Sport

Animal Collective- Centipede Hz (2012)
Animal Collective- Centipede Hz (2012)

After the last three releases the expectations were gigantic, and I don’t think you’d find many who would say that Centipede Hz wasn’t a disappointment because of that. I even gave myself a waiting period of about a week where I tried to ‘get it’ before proclaiming that I didn’t think it was anything that great, and I would stand by that assessment today. The point of the album seems confusing and more singles-oriented with “Today’s Supernatural” trying to be an upbeat journey, “Monkey Rich” calling out the label-man who profits from their work, and “Applesauce” telling a story about their love for fruit. Those are all good tracks, but how do they come together to form the whole here? In creating the mindset of the album they didn’t make the tracks cohesive enough to leave a continuing mindset, so rather than a beautiful journey the listener gets this disjointed path which re-sets itself. A disappointment, but not a bad listen and not enough reason to become discouraged about the band’s future quite yet.

Top Tracks: “Applesauce”, “Today’s Supernatural“, “Wide Eyed


My Ranking of Animal Collective albums:
1) Merriweather Post Pavilion

2) Strawberry Jam

3) Feels

4) Sung Tongs

5) Centipede Hz

6) Danse Manatee

7) Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished

8) Here Comes the Indian

unranked: Campfire Songs

End Note: I didn’t cover Eps here because the sound changed enough from album-to-album so much so that I felt that it showed the career arc well on it’s own. This will probably continue to be the case for these articles from this point on as there’s only one band which I’m an obsessive fan of, the one I covered in my first post: Modest Mouse.

There are two absolutely terrific Animal Collective songs on their Eps though, “People” which came out in 2006 and one of the better songs in their discography, “What Would I Want? Sky” in 2009.

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