Jane: Berserker

Mike Schiller

Join Panda Bear of Animal Collective and his DJ friend Scott Mou for a spiritual hour of gentle noise and pleasant drones. Y'know, if you're into that sort of thing.



Label: Paw Tracks
US Release Date: 2005-04-26
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

When writing of the sessions that turned into Berserker, the first full album from Jane, Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear of Animal Collective) expresses the following: "...its the dance that gets us going on Jane... mostly it was about hanging out together and talking and playing music and thinking and feeling and having fun and dancing most of all." One would likely be forgiven, then, for approaching Berserker and thinking it's going to be a dance album. Because it's not. Not by a long shot. The only people that would have a prayer in the world of dancing to Berserker are the same people who spend long hours in their homes interpretive dancing to sounds of the rainforest.

Jane is made up of the aforementioned Lennox and Scott Mou, a New York City DJ, the two of them basically jamming together, riffing on a theme until they find something they like, something that speaks to their spirit. Think Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works, Volume 2, think Fantomas' Delìrium Còrdia. If you'd rather stick a little closer to the artists actually involved here, think "Visiting Friends", the 12-minute epic of swirling, droning guitars and voices on Animal Collective's recent breakthrough Sung Tongs. These are pieces and albums that take one part of what makes their respective artists unique, and extends that one thing for periods longer than anyone could have imagined. Berserker is a little bit like "Visiting Friends" stretched out to album length, and appreciation of it will depend largely on whether that sounds like an appealing idea to its prospective listeners.

The opening, title track is actually the shortest thing on the disc at a mere six minutes. It finds a single major chord and sticks with it, with a synthesizer playing the chord in the background and what might be a guitar repeatedly laying the same chord over the synthesized base, providing more of a percussive, rhythmic element than an actual melodic one. Washes and rumbles of noise float in like waves, adding texture and atmosphere to the piece, and Lennox chimes in with his instantly recognizable voice, moaning lovely, descending melodies over the top of it all. "Berserker" itself is a lovely piece of music, perfect for sitting on the beach and trying to discern the difference between the rush of the water and the different shades of noise that ebb and flow throughout the music.

"Berserker" shifts into a series of arrhythmic whistles, which eventually give way to the high-pitched synth drone that defines the majority of "Agg Report". The drone shifts in and out of focus, occasionally giving way to lower pulses, piano tinkles, and intermittent high pitched distant vocal melodies. There's actually a beat here, too, though its function seems to be geared more toward keeping time than any sort of dancing. "Slipping Away" follows, and its title proves curious as it is the one song on the CD with a true sense of build. The song begins as all the others do, quietly and slowly, with various sounds and voices getting pitch-bent into unrecognizable sonic textures. Eventually, however, a beat shows up, Lennox borrows the vocal filter Thom Yorke used on Kid A's title track, and "Slipping Away" turns into a far different beast entirely. The beat continues its build throughout the track, eventually taking over at about the six-minute mark as the predominant feature of the song. Of course, it all disintegrates two minutes later, turning into an abstract sound collage that'll completely frustrate anyone who was relieved to finally find a song that they could nod their head to.

As it turns out, the easily frustrated will be no less so as the album closes with "Swan", a nearly 25-minute drone that's actually more static in nature than any of the still drones before it. "Swan" is interesting for its ultra-slow pitch-shifting and the further manipulation of organic sounds into alien ones, but mostly, it's background noise for those scared of silence.

All description aside, the question of value remains. It would be easy to look into Berserker and find some kind of deeper meaning, some sort of statement on soul-searching, the breakdown of society, and the current state of independent music. Even so, I'm not entirely sure that one exists. More likely, Berserker is the sound of two guys making noise with whatever instruments they have lying around the house, and coming up with an hour's worth of material that they thought sounded good enough to unleash upon the general public. As just that, it's decent and pleasant; unfortunately, it is destined to fall short of the expectations that any association with Animal Collective will, fairly or not, push upon it.


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.

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.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.