[27 August 2010]
ODDSAC, a “visual album” by filmmaker Danny Perez and the band Animal Collective, is emblematic of current media trends, specifically the use of increasingly sophisticated digital and dimensional techniques to enhance “immersion” and long-form video to supplement musical releases. Following recent companion videos from Liars (Drum’s Not Dead), the Knife (Silent Shout), and Beach House (Teen Dream), ODDSAC is closest in purpose and execution to Ultimate Reality, the collaboration of Jimmy Joe Roche and Dan Deacon.
Animal Collective steamrolled through 2009 as critics’ darlings thanks to hit album Merriweather Post Pavilion. According to the press release for ODDSAC, the project took more than four years to complete, so while the DVD arrives in the wake of a great deal of creative and commercial success, the visual album’s creation spanned several group and solo LPs by the band and its members. The songs from ODDSAC do reflect the variety of sounds that the band members have created in recent years. However, this release represents the first time the group’s songs have been completely linked with a video work and therefore not made available in audio-only form. ODDSAC is presented on DVD with chapter selections and Dolby 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround sound audio. Also included in the package is a handsome 40-page hardcover art book. Within this relationship of sound and vision, the recurring aural aspect of ODDSAC is Animal Collective’s signature wide-ranging psychedelic pop. The visual elements are less cohesive and mostly non-narrative, with images of light and water providing loose connections between individual tracks/segments.
The album begins with “Mr. Fingers”, as fire and other lights spin and dance against a night exterior. A female character seems to be trapped by a room that is filling with oil. There are some admirable cinematic references in this section of the work. Perez merges a reflection of the fire outside with the interior location, and in his own low-tech way, brings to mind a virtuoso sequence from Tarkovsky’s The Mirror. “Mr. Fingers” is most effective at its end, when the electronic music on the soundtrack provides a dizzying foundation for the fire-filled frame.
“Kindle Song” uses a melody and rhythm that at first have much in common with Silent Shout, and the writhing figure in black oil visually reinforces the comparison. Then the song shifts into more recognizable Animal Collective territory, as layers of voices mix with static to accompany an eventually overwhelming bit of visual noise. The digital manipulation and abstraction become somewhat repetitive, and “Satin Orb Wash” offers a small variation by focusing on live action shots of two individuals—one in some sort of science fiction “pod” scenario, and another who is washing orbs in a small body of water. Sound effects and out-of-sync dialogue enhance the imagery, which is as concerned with the flow of water as “Mr. Fingers” is with the motion of fire.
The footage from real life is more compelling than the digital content Perez (unfortunately) returns to frequently. Although the musical foundation of “Green Beans” is a transfixing ambient loop, the visual material never rises above the effect of a trippy shape-shifting screensaver. “Green Beans” is most interesting when human faces hauntingly emerge and then disappear from the fluid combination of colors and shapes—a palette which seems to be influenced by the late digital artist Jeremy Blake.
“Screens” is the first track on ODDSAC to evoke the Campfire Songs acoustic guitar mode of Animal Collective, and the song is an inspired choice for the visual storytelling. A lonely man rows a boat at night, as the light of the moon reflects on the water. However, rather than continue to develop what are clearly his primary motifs for this work, Perez detours again into what amounts to colored static for “Urban Creme”, which weighs down the middle of the film and is soundtracked by passable electronic/keyboard textures.
Two related segments, “Working” and “Tantrum Barb”, combine Feels-style tunes with footage of a guy in an Edgar Winter wig walking across rocks and assembling a drum kit. Noise/static inserts interrupt the action, but their brevity and spontaneity create energy rather than distract from the development of the images. These segments inventively walk the line between literal and abstract interpretations. “Tantrum Barb” is arguably the most percussive song on ODDSAC, and the Edgar Winter figure literally maintains the beat on the drum kit he has assembled. However, this more traditional “music video” thread is juxtaposed with the return of the now-crazed man from “Satin Orb Wash” and a large dose of rapid cutting and digital manipulation of other shots that lack context.
The most narratively coherent section of ODDSAC occurs across “Lady on the Lake”, “Fried Camp”, and “Fried Vamp”. In “Lady on the Lake”, fevered vocals correspond well with the nighttime hunt of the boatman from “Screens”. Here he seems far more menacing, and once again his journey unites water and fire, as the light of a campfire beckons him across the woods towards a family camping by a lake. The editing of this section is particularly noteworthy for the suspense it builds between the hunter and his prey. “Fried Camp” is shocking because even though the previous scene has suggested that the family is in danger, its demise via marshmallows and vampirism is a unique, see-it-to-believe-it moment sure to please horror fans. Animal Collective provides the scene with screams and insistent keyboard action that intensify the marshmallowy, bloody terror. The storyline comes to a close with pun-titled “Fried Vamp”, in which sunlight assails the vampire over a soundtrack of nauseating electronic oscillations. To illustrate the effect of the sun on the vampire, Perez resurrects the pink and blue colors from “Green Beans”, this time using practical effects.
After the thrill of the three-song arc that ends in daylight horror, the conclusion of ODDSAC is a bit of a letdown. “Mess Hour House” and “What Happened?” are not as well executed as the other live-action material on the album, and the scenario of a cooking party-turned food fight/dance party feels out of place with the tone of the preceding segments. Sonically, “What Happened?” is in the style of Merriweather Post Pavilion and seems designed to leave the viewer feeling ecstatic and in the mood to dance. However, the images and staging are anticlimactic, aiming for catharsis but mostly achieving awkwardness. ODDSAC more often than not benefits from its creators’ keen alternation of uneasiness and release, so the failure to better synthesize those qualities at the end is especially palpable.