Where the wild things are
Animal Collective has a hell of a way with sounds
"I'm not a big Brian Eno fan," admits Josh "Deaken" Dibb of Animal Collective, "but a friend of mind saw him speak, and [Eno] described how the human eye is always taking small flash pictures instead of [focusing on] one image. Eno said he wanted to make music that felt like that. Sometimes our music also seems to follow that concept."
Indeed, Animal Collective consists of four musicians — Dibb, David "Avey Tare" Portner, Noah "Panda Bear" Lennox and Brian "Geologist" Weitz — whose sometimes overlapping, sometimes understated contributions come together to make music that can seem like a collection of brief snapshots.
"[Our music comes out] more like feelings or brief little moments of bursts or swells," divulges Portner, "and when we're playing, it's cool to mess around and see where we can take it and get our audience to go."
Animal Collective has a lot of places to draw on as launch pads for where to take an audience. Originally, the members met in a 'burb of Baltimore, Md., which influenced the group's rambling psychedelic folk on earlier albums Campfire Songs and Here Comes the Indian. A migration to New York City brought sprawling white noise and fevered electronics to the group's sound as evidenced on Danse Manatee. "In nature and New York, there's a theme of movement," says Portner, "and I think there's definitely a lot of movement in our playing."
The members are now geographically scattered between Brooklyn, D.C., and Lisbon, and, not surprisingly, this has impacted their music.
"We're always moving around physically, and sonically forward," says Portner.
Indeed, Animal Collective's latest musical development, as captured on Sung Tongs, primarily the work of Portner and Lennox, merges both the act's noisy and quiet sides. It's both semi-rural and utterly urban. The group's musical palette is as viscous and iridescent as an oil slick. Delayed guitars, tape loops, tribal drumming and many more mercurial bursts rear forth in a myriad of forms. Sung Tongs is a baptism of blissful squalls threaded with melodic wisps, fuzzy pop ritualistically sifted from droning sediment. It reflects the group's varied influences, which include the Beach Boys, Syd Barrett, Captain Beefheart and the Incredible String Band.
Animal Collective works within a very visual environment, establishing the mode of recording from the studio to the thematically complementary cover art designed by Portner's sister.
"[Our] albums always have color stuff," says Portner, "and this one I was thinking red. Basically we recorded the whole album under red lights, and called the studio Hell."
In the music of Animal Collective, imagination is as important an instrument as any acoustic accoutrement. "Early on we didn't want to be limited to one idea of where we could come from, what we played, what our roles in the band were," says Dibb. "[When you're] exposed to more and more things, you can make music out of anything. Our ultimate totem would be a hybrid, evolving instrument with no parameters to it." That's quite an image. Eno would be proud.