Category Archives: Animal Collective

New release: Panda Bear – Tomboy

Panda Bear: Tomboy
Paw Tracks (2011)

There aren’t many people making music this joyous nowadays. And of those that are, not many can do it without sounding horribly false, synthetic and cringe worthy. Panda Bear and his Animal Collective pals have a knack for making uplifting music that doesn’t come off trite. It’s their willingness to embrace pop without forgoing their noisy, experimental roots that keeps their shit fresh. So is Tomboy a worthy successor to Panda’s absofuckinglutely delightful Person Pitch record from 2007? Well that’s dangerous territory we’re getting into.

Person Pitch is so unique in its sound and vibe that trying to recapture its magic would have been a deathwish for Mr Lennox, not to mention that retreading ground isn’t the Animal Collective way. And still, it’s impossible to hear Tomboy without thinking about its predecessor.  I’m not making excuses here, this a solid album and Lennox is crazy skilled at sewing together unconventional sounds into a warm and comfortable blanket.

Tomboy‘s songs are shorter, concise and focused. Rhythm has a major focus but the beats are never conventional, everything’s dubbed out and blown out into a lazy mirage. Even when there’s no drums (sampled or otherwise) the music is collaged together in head-nodding arrangements. The Beach Boys harmonies, a major strength of Panda’s have been pushed to the fore which is both a blessing and a curse; the vocal emphasis scrubs out the dreamy lo-fi charm of Person Pitch, and yet I keep catching myself humming Tomboy‘s melodies. And each time I hear this record I find a new squelch, gurgle or flutter that surprises and amazes me. Panda is emerging as a major force within Animal Collective, not that I think he’s consciously trying to outshine the rest of his gang. Tomboy stands on its own, outside both the Collective and Person Pitch. If you can, then you should judge it that way.

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New release: Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise

Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise
Rough Trade (2010)

I’m hopping on the hype bandwagon here, but you know, I love Animal Collective and the fourth track on this record features the vocals of Panda Bear (Noah Lennox). So I dived in.

If you’ve been living under a rock Pantha Du Prince, AKA German-born Hendrick Weber has garnered attention for bringing Indie adventurousness to bustling House and Techno rhythms. Weber has played in a host of Euro Indie rock bands, he DJs and recently made a name for himself as an electronic producer.  Apparently his music displays a love for the British Shogaze scene, however I can’t hear that on this, the first of his records I’ve heard.

The title Black Noise is a reference to sounds that are inaudible to the human ear, such as animals ‘hearing’ or sensing an earthquake before it takes place. The bulk of this record has been constructed from field recordings and jam sessions that took place somewhere in the Swiss Alps, apparently at the site of a mud slide which wiped out an entire village.

Such references suggest that Black Noise would be dense and melancholic, but instead each track opens with a collage of on site field recordings that slowly arrange themselves into mid-paced Techno and House tracks that blossom with steel drums, chimes and other ringing sounds. Stick to my Side featuring Panda Bear is definitely the album’s low point, where the human voice sounds like an afterthought within Weber’s deft production skills and cinematic scope.

The instrumentals are far superior, such as Abglanz which builds at a snail’s pace towards a cascade of discordant steel drums, or Welt Am Draht where snaky rhythms propel droning synths and guitar harmonics, and only headphones can do justice to the suave minimalism of The Splendour.

Black Noise calls to mind Warp Records releases by Aphex twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada during the 1990’s where ‘Dance Music’ is too basic an adjective to describe the warmth and emotion emanating from such electronic music. However, Pantha Du Prince is no where near as experimental or playful as the above mentioned artists, and all of this talk about inaudible sounds and making music from field recordings ultimately doesn’t sound as unique as it could do. Black Noise is beautifully crafted ambience and that’s solely how it should be enjoyed.

Digging: Animal Collective

Animal Collective: Strawberry Jam
Domino (2007)

A few nights ago I saw Animal Collective play live at The Forum in Melbourne. It was a great show, an amorphous pastiche of songs from right across their career. Every track bled into the next via noisy and atmospheric improvisations that harked back to the chaotic nature of their early recordings. Every song they played was warped beyond its recorded format, which was as exciting for us, the audience as it was for the band themselves. And when they played Fireworks, possibly my favourite Animal Collective song ever, I realised just how fucking much I love the album from whence it came – Strawberry Jam.

There are Animal Collective fans who struggle with this record for its significant change in direction. Its synthetic sound is light years away from the Shamanic climaxes of records like Here Comes the Indian. If you ask me, that’s why it’s so freaking awesome.

It’s as if they translated the magic and whimsy of what they’d become renowned for and processed it into something gelatinous, sugary and wonderfully artificial. It’s the sound of thousands of different colored plastics melted down in the sun and oozing together into swirls of candied goodness. Strawberry Jam is a series of 4-5 minutes songs that bubble and froth in unexpected ways, never quite grooving, never quite soothing, never quite breaking the mould but never sounding like anything else put to record either.

From the demented Calypso jam of Chores, to the evaporating electro bounce of Peacebone, to the sparkling collages of Number 1 and Cuckoo, Strawberry Jam covers a huge amount of ground in a short amount of time. And while this couldn’t be classified as noise in the sense of being abrasive, discordant or unstructured, Strawberry Jam CAN be considered noise in the sense that it has no peers, and only the vaguest of reference points. Those who like adventures will find plenty of unexplored territory here.

New Release: Animal Collective

Animal Collective: Fall be Kind
Domino / Paw tracks (2009)

When established bands put out EPs, warning bells are triggered off in my zany little brain. I often end up feeling ripped off by the half-baked tunes within the abbreviated format. They’re promoted as ‘stuff that didn’t fit on the album’ when really they’re just B-side filler.

Prior to its release, Animal Collective spoke about the Fall be Kind EP as a collection of songs written during the sessions for Merriweather Post Pavilion, which didn’t fit into the sunnier, water oriented vibes of that album. And guess what? They weren’t cranking our chains. These guys are the real, honest to goodness deal.

The five tracks here are certainly shadier and, yes, more autumn sounding than the full-length release that it accompanies. They veer wildly between the shimmering sound scapes of Feels era Animal Collective and the danceable pulse of Merriweather. As EPs go, Fall be Kind also sounds more like an album, the way songs bleed into each other to take the listener on a whimsical 27 minute journey.

Graze opens proceedings with one of those dreamy interplays of watery sound and far-away vocals a la the moodiness of their Feels record from 2005. Unexpectedly the song morphs into a fucked up jig of tin whistles, stomping toms and Grimey bass lines. It’s a concoction that could only ever work in the hands of Animal Collective – do not try this at home.

Similarly, What Would I Want? Sky (the one with the Grateful Dead sample) leads you astray with psychedelia before opening up into a trip-hop ride through pianos, chimes and vocal harmonies directly related to Panda Bear’s solo stuff.

After an ambient middle track, the last half of Fall be Kind is what sinks its teeth into me the most. Certainly darker than the opening tunes, both On a Highway and I Think I Can revolve around vaguely tribal beats sitting on odd time signatures. Weirdo samples snap and crackle in the periphery, while Avey and Panda’s vocals take on a ritualistic and chant-like feel. It’s magical in a very unsettling way.

Fall be Kind is a real gem. It’s a short burst of sunshine through cloudy days.  I love these guys for the evolution they’ve undertaken during their career, and for constantly surprising with unusual approaches to traditional sounds and genres. And if you’ve never heard Animal Collective before, this could be a fantastic, and easy place to start.

New Releases: Animal Collective

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion

( Domino 2009 )

animalRemember when you were a little kid, and everything was huge and filled with wonder? Grown ups did things that made absolutely no sense to you even though it appeared they knew exactly what they were doing. Day to day existence felt like a fantasy and you thought you’d never get old.

Animal Collective evoke all of those clichéd childhood memories in a manner that’s totally morning fresh and new. Even the crash and clatter of their early recordings sound familiar but unlike anything put to tape before.  These boys totally deserve their crowns as experimental pop kings.

Music nerds everywhere have salivated over the release of Merriweather Post Pavillion for 12 months now, and in my humble opinion the hype was worthy and the relentless 10/10 reviews have been on the money.

Their last album, the plastique fantastique Strawberry Jam threw guitars and dreamy sound scapes to the wind, giving us something much more upbeat and danceable. They continue that vibe on Merriweather but this time the songs are more melodic and ear friendly; easier to understand. Which doesn’t mean this is conventional music, far from it.

On Also Frightened the rhythm has no snare drum, which gives the ringing keyboards a somewhat seasick feel. Guys Eyes opens with a jerky piano and samples of Avey Tare singing about ‘doing exactly what his body wants to’, before segueing into a bass-heavy bridge decorated in pitch shifted electronics. Just when you think the song is going to take off, it slips back into its original riff and then closes with gentle flute refrain.  Meanwhile the opening bars of Taste sounds like a remix of The Lion King soundtrack, played in the chill out room of a basement rave.

Some songs drift into nothing, while others burst into Tropicana dance-offs. Layers and layers of harmonised vocals come off sounding like the Beach Boys in a mirror maze.  And keyboard flourishes twinkle in far reaches of the mix. These unexpected turns have always been the beauty of Animal Collective’s sound, and here on their ninth studio album they’ve mastered the art of neatly piecing these disparate ideas together.

It’s not easy making music that’s predominately electronic sound warm, inviting and human. Merriweather Post Pavillion has just enough whimsy and magic about it to be uplifting without dripping cheese.