[5 May 2004]
I hope I’m not the only person who gets pinwheel eyes and a big wet Pavlovian tongue when Sung Tongs is on the stereo. I hope the entire world will be as agog as I am when Sung Tongs is what speakers emote. It’s a marvelous album that sparkles on the filigrees of the cerebellum, as good as any under-the-bridge medication, and better than the aurora borealis on a winter night.
To ask a slightly revised version of the question we all ask as children, but must now aim at another kind of magical creation: Where did this album come from? Well, son, perhaps as many as four players were involved here, and none of them immodest enough to use real names. So we have Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist, and Deaken. Together, they’ve released and re-released a few albums before this masterpiece, and most of them are readily available, including the revered Here Comes the Indian, the less enjoyable Danse Manatee, and the hallucinatory Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished.
It’s clear that as the debris from the ashbin of ‘90s rock music is sorted out, what has remained desirable for today’s musical dumpster-divers are the Sun City Girls and Boredoms. No two bands can be said to have had more influence on the best music of our new and ever more isolated age. Not only does Animal Collective bare the indelible facial tattoos of Sun and Bore worship, so do Black Dice, Wolf Eyes, Mice Parade, Jackie-O Motherfucker, and many others. What the Sun City Girls and Boredoms taught our young artists is that the combined power of mysticism, punk ethos, and a commitment to the strange, amounts to something that approaches the most pure, transcendent essence of what music truly means to a culture. The digestion of their influence also required extra-curricular learning into the discography of such whacked-out innovators as Neu!, Henry Flynt, the Gnoua Brotherhood of Marrakesh, and a whole visual catalogue of neurotic, psychedelic outsider art.
When the tribal sing-song of “We Tigers” starts up, three-quarters of the way through Sung Tongs, it’s clear Animal Collective are the most crucial voice in this new generation of artists. I feel like I’m listening to a field recording of some Williamsburg marriage ceremony, complete with penis-painting and iconic, potency-empowering wood-carvings of Kirsten Dunst. It’s as if the joy and pleasure of sound is sharp enough to have jugulated me. I’m left bloodless on the floor with my soul heaven-sent. An entire universe of cross-dressers beyond the Rig-Veda would be proud of Animal Collective’s accomplishment.
Okay, yes, I agree, I’m exaggerating, but Animal Collective is all about exaggeration. This is passionate music, and I get worked up listening to it. I think hyperbole and logorrhea suit their jamboree. Unlike nice bands such as Radiohead or Autechre, they didn’t go from normal to strange. Animal Collective started strange and arrived at paranormal. Like Janis Joplin’s best days, love has been made to the plenum by Animal Collective. It’s this all-encompassing hug of creative intimacy that makes Sung Tongs such a warm, charismatic record, and it also makes me wonder if I somehow personally requested this album, through a kind of peer-to-peer trading of unconscious desires. How else could it sound so perfect?
Sung Tongs is an inch more sublime than anything they’ve done previously, with more phenomenal use of their manic choir of Motown vocals, less scattered, clique-ish dissonance, and more sideshow bubblegum-pop freaking out on god-knows-what powerful substance. Is it a diet of pure tuna that gives Animal Collective such a seratonin boost of genius? Or is it something less poisoned but more illegal that makes songs like “Who Could Win a Rabbit” more than just tremendous inventions within the pop idiom, but a revelatory, near epiphanic listening experience? Something that resembles religion. Something heartbreaking and real. This is how I succumb to songs like “The Softest Voice”: as if I’ve been asked to pray. I pray with Animal Collective’s optimistic atheism. Beyond the doors that even Beach Boy Brian Wilson couldn’t imagine opening during his Smile-era mental breakdown (psychotropic ascendancy) begins the vast, kaleidoscopic journey into music taken by Animal Collective’s unconscious.