The Fat Cat re-release of Animal Collective’s first two records, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished and Danse Manatee, serves as a good starting point to the breadth and depth of the Animal sound for those who are unfamiliar with the Brooklyn-based four-piece. While 2000’s Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished is a psychedelic album with an inkling of pop and noise, and 2001’s Danse Manatee embodies a looser, freer sound that’s closer to what the Collective brilliantly recorded for their latest album, Here Comes the Indian, both records hint of the accomplishments and capabilities of one of the underground’s critically loved groups.
Animal Collective formed in 2000 as a collaboration between the group’s two core members Avey Tare (nee David Portner) and Panda Bear (nee Noah Lennox). After Spirit was released that same year by their own Animal label, the group expanded to include Geologist (aka Brian Weitz), whose presence brought on the band’s current unconventional, organic sound. With the addition of Deaken, the Collective recorded this year’s Here Comes the Indian (released by Carpark’s PawPrints label), the only album that features all four band members. More of a cooperative under the Animal Collective moniker, the group’s lineup changes constantly with members shifting in and out of the rotation at any given time, which perhaps contributes to the Collective’s myriad sounds.
In this double CD release, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished is the album listeners would find more accessible for its more traditional song structures. Most tracks have Avey Tare’s airy vocals floating over an electronic assortment of sounds, which pull together to create what might be best described as noise-tinged psychedelia. The album-opener and title track has Tare’s voice searching for something (in the tradition of most psychedelia), and the second track, “April and the Phantom”, begins with strong chimes then breaks into a wall of noise and finally settles in a nice melody. The merry-go-round sound of “Someday I’ll Grow to Be As Tall As the Giant” is stellar, and the subtle bells and chimes of “Penny Dreadfuls” add softness to the album’s electro-noise. The epic album-closer “Alvin Row” ultimately epitomizes the record with its 12-minute track time, spanning noise, folk, psychedelia, and pop — all with a piano lullaby melody as its foundation.
In contrast to Spirit, Danse Manatee is a bare-bones record that, for the most part, lacks the electronic noise of the debut. The album as a whole is more organic and a bit simpler, which would lead one to question whether the tracks are song sketches, recorded after impromptu sessions. Percussion is the most evident instrumentation, yet the use of subtle electro sounds still shines through. On “Meet the Light Child” the Collective’s voices once again become the centerpiece of the song, as is the chanting on “Another White Singer (Little White Glove)”, which quite doesn’t have the force of a live Animal show though it has the potential to convey it. The pounding “Runnin’ the Round Ball” is the track most reminiscent of the Collective’s live, tribal-like shows, and is the song the foursome may have taken their cue from for Here Comes the Indian.
At a Chicago concert earlier this year to promote 2003’s Indian, two of the group’s four put on an exhausting set and a dizzying, dramatic performance. Lost in the act of music creation, the pair (which two is unknown) used their voices as chanting instruments accompanied by a single beat drum. The show was an exercise in tribal expression where wild gestures and circles dances were a part of the intensity, made more theatrical by the presence of red lights beaming on to the stage.
Call it post-rock, psychedelia, prog-pop, or whatever other music category comes to mind, in the end, Animal Collective creates melodies with their vocals or with their instruments that are either accessible or challenging — sometimes both at once — and molds it all into tracks and albums with a spacey, out of this world sound.