Animal Collective's Panoramic Kingdom

A casting call of the wild

Sir David Attenborough, the British naturalist celebrated for his BBC Life series, has captured many compelling images of existence. Giant starfish, for example, vacuum up brittle stars by the gulpful on his programs. The more terrestrial Animal Collective exhibits a similar voraciousness, but for tonal experimentation. And at least one member of the band finds a kindred spirit in biological studies.

"I have been totally entranced [by] the world of David Attenborough science docs," admits Josh "Deakin" Dibb, when ribbed by e-mail as to why a band named Animal Collective features only mammalian melodies instead of, say, the contributions of invertebrates. "Really fucking amazing stuff on so many levels. There is a ton of stuff on invertebrates, in and out of the water. Some of it is some of the most psychedelic reality I have ever seen."

Animal Collective takes its tea ceremonies quite seriously.
Animal Collective takes its tea ceremonies quite seriously.

OK, score one for Attenborough and critters with no backbone. And should the documentarian decide to turn his trained lens on blissful pop squalls and hypersaturated electro-acoustic blurts, he'd find appropriate subjects in Animal Collective's panoramic colonies. Now on its eighth album, Animal Collective has exhibited enviable evolution, leaving behind the extremes of piebald pitch and huddled oscillations that marked the group's earliest records. Each album has featured increasingly variegated singalongs, and the band's latest, Strawberry Jam, features nine harmonious tracks of flushed pop dynamics and emphasized narratives (lyrical snapshots of figurative meals and fanciful mating, at least).

The disc cascades in chromatic streams and distended pulses, as the band amalgamates the affectations of Captain Beefheart, the Incredible String Band, Silver Apples, and Frank Zappa into its Day-Glo welts. A song such as "For Reverend Green" is a scrawl of clipped, conflicted yowls, while "Fireworks" is a fusillade of buoyant whoops. Yet these emotionally contrasting percussion-and-guitar pinwheels also work next to the electronically treated clatter of "Chores," which corkscrews with splashy sonic hiccups.

Animal Collective began in the late '90s as the after-school shits-and-giggles of four friends — Dibb, David "Avey Tare" Portner, Noah "Panda Bear" Lennox, and Brian "Geologist" Weitz — killing boredom in the suburban enclaves around Baltimore. They jammed together with lysergical focus. Dense freak-folk and fevered 8-bit electronics became conjoined, sprawling in tandem. "I really enjoy things that evoke seemingly contrasting emotions," confesses Dibb. "In a way it sort of lets you find your own way through a thing rather than being told how to feel."

As time has passed, the group's members have scattered to Brooklyn, Lisbon, Washington, D.C., and back to Baltimore. Yet, even as the act becomes more pixilated, its songs have become less disjointed.

"There has been less time for jamming as we have moved apart," says Dibb. "So these days people come to practice with much more realized ideas. It has brought a lot of new challenges. But it has also brought a lot more appreciation of what we do and how we spend time together. We have really learned to appreciate the bro time ... "

One thing that has not changed, however, is that the group is still not composed of the dilated dope fiends conjured by the adjectives used to describe their music — descriptors such as "noodling," "skewed," and "wormhole." "Seems like some people really expect us to be these wild, crazy, unhinged psychedelic warriors with a heavy case of acid damage," reflects Dibb from the frenzy of a Baltimore couch. "Those people are usually disappointed. I like to take walks and have quiet nights at home and watch sweet bro movies."

For Dibb, Portner, Lennox, and Weitz, Animal Collective is a heartfelt vehicle for celebrating their set's sense of the world. Upon reconvening for each album, the four musicians become more adept at tightening the weave of their frequencies. This is a pack whose migrations, musical and otherwise, make for good imaginary cinema.

 
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