Music

Animal Collective and Danny Perez: ODDSAC

ODDSAC 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.


Animal Collective and Danny Perez

ODDSAC

Label: Plexifilm
US Release Date: 2010-08-10
UK Release Date: 2010-08-16
Amazon
iTunes

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.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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