Monkey Been to Burn Town (Remix EP)
US: 28 May 2013
UK: 28 May 2013
Centipede HZ was cluttered, but it was meant to be: signposted by evaporating radio frequencies and samples from digital childhood adventures, it sought to bring us an Animal Collective story that was exuberant and claustrophobic, as if every great memory was happening at once. You can understand the ambivalence—Merriweather Post Pavilion, their breakthrough album, offered enough space within its immaculately crafted pop songs that you discovered it in your own time, and often unto your own season. (For me, it was a snow album, but there’s literally a song called “Summertime Clothes”, arguing otherwise.) Centipede HZ, on the other hand, got your opinion at once. If you liked the pocket of sound they were using here, Avey Tare and Panda Bear switched the channel over, and asked you if you liked this one better. Weirdly, it flowed like crazy—as nebulously brought together as every different burst of sound was, this was still an album compacted into one space.
The most interesting thing about Monkey Been to Burntown, given that it’s essentially a collection of invitation fan art, is how well sequenced it feels. Despite bringing together four conflating interpretations of the sound that existed on Centipede, this record flows, as if Avey Tare and Panda Bear had the final say about how it works. Strange, considering how liberally these remixes lift from their originals. Three are renditions of “Monkey Riches” that either wind it further out of place or try and restrain it, while Shabazz Palace’s remix of “New Town Burnout” sounds like an original of the duo’s own making, chopped and screwed with patches of AnCo samples. Miraculously, it feels like an EP in the same way Fall Be Kind did, a shorter, enveloping elemental journey from a band who never stop going on them.
Brian DeGraw’s version of “Monkey Riches” is as extensive as the original, or, you know, just as long, but it feels like Centipede HZ as a microcosm. The Gang Gang Dance frontman adds his own favourite pieces of memory music into the mix, using new sounds (a simple synth line or a spectral, droning sample) and makes new ones out of the original. He manipulates Avey Tare’s voice into an instrument, using it to correlate with the pulse of his widescreen beat, or altering its pitch for the hell of it. The remix feeds into Traxman’s as if the latter is just an extended trance sequence. Traxman revs the tempo up to make a claustrophobic, one-speed dance anthem, repeating only a select couple of Avey Tare’s many ambling lyrical refrains, making them seem syncopated in comparison to their fleeting presence on the original. Like the other remixes joining it, Traxman bends the source material to his will, using it as a backdrop to the loud, staccato beats in front. Remnants of Panda Bear’s drumming remain in the background, marrying a clipped percussive style to a more rumbling, organic one. It’s faster and more exhilarating than Animal Collective made it, but it’s also more contained. Traxman zoned in on one aspect of the song for his own means, and that’s how it sounds.
The most exciting remix on Burntown, if you can call it a remix, is exempt from Avey Tare’s more loosely constructed “Monkey Riches”, instead borrowing from a Panda Bear song guided by its stuttering beat and short, sharp pockets of sound. Shabazz Palace’s version of “New Town Burnout” is a complete reinvention. The duo rearrange the song’s signifying moments as if sampling them for their own song. You only hear the dissonant keyboard chords about three minutes into the remix itself, and Panda Bear’s vocals are eradicated from the song completely. Instead, Ishmael Butler sings the lyrics under an ominous bass line, eventually developing them into his own rap, leading me to think of the darker, more fractured moments from his 2011 hip-hop classic, Black Up. A duo that makes intelligent, synthetic hip-hop, Shabazz Palaces aren’t necessarily remixing as part of their day job, so their version of “New Town Burnout” feels delightfully creative in a different way. It’s as if they’re most suited of the four artists on the EP to go off on one of Animal Collectives weird, wonderful adventures.
I feel like the real winner is likely to be the final “Monkey Riches” remix, though, molded by Teenage Fantasy. For those dismissive of Centipede HZ’s cluster-fuck of gorgeous sounds, it’s the most accessible song here, and perhaps the most accessible interpretation of that album as a whole. It extends space to the song, making Avey Tare’s chants of “I make a monkey rich!” remote and echoing, and becoming more serene at its forefront. Each artist on Monkey Been to Burntown brings the high-energy movements of Centipede HZ to do their bidding, but the more interesting work is done by those who see their own set of rapidly moving frequencies. For Shabazz Palaces, Animal Collective are just another cog in the machine. That’s what makes claustrophobia so good sometimes.