IT'S RARE TO GET more than three sentences into a story about Animal Collective before stumbling across the words "weird" or "freak." Yet, as I spoke to Dave Porter, AKA Avey Tare, by telephone from New York, he sounded neither weird nor freaky. In fact, he sounded perfectly normal, just sleepy and resigned to a Sunday of press interviews. The Brooklyn foursome is currently making the rounds in support of their newest album, Feels, the group's most accessible to date. It's their seventh full-length, but only the first since blowing up something major with 2004's Sung Tongs.
When Sung Tongs dropped that summer, the mouths of indierockers and music critics could hardly keep up with their brains as they scrambled for adjectives to describe Sung Tong's primal, organic, free-for-all beauty. They were constantly compared to the Beach Boys, Appalachian folksingers, primitive banshees, ecclesiastical campfire balladeers, and, well, animals. Porter says the band didn't worry too much when the same phrases were used ad infinitum to describe their sound, but says that, "You never want to feel marginalized or have a tag put on you. So a lot of times we feel like we have to break free of that—like from the Beach Boys thing. Or sometimes people refer to us as 'shamans.' Ultimately, how do you want us to respond to that? Do you even know what that word means? We just play, you know?"
The new album, Feels, features their catchiest songs to date—there are more hooks and more intelligible lyrics than on albums past, though they're still deep-fried in a hallucinatory sizzle of chirping insects, spastic yelps, hollowed-out log rhythms, and gargling harmonies. Despite the inherent mindfuckiness of the arrangements and the band's collective growth as songwriters, only one adjective haunted Feels' (critically acclaimed) buzz—"pop." I asked Porter if the band would have predicted the nearly unanimous response to Feels as a pop album. "No, we don't see music in those terms. In some ways, every album we make is a pop record. Every one of us can probably hum a tune from every one of our songs, so we don't establish differences between the poppiness of one album to another. We certainly never wanted one record to sound like another. That's probably the most important thing for us."This tour finds all four members of the Collective together again—something that occurs with less frequency than in the old days, now that 25 percent of the band lives overseas and other members are starting families. Porter says that he doesn't see how any band could enjoy life on the road, but still maintains that playing together live makes it all worthwhile. "To be able to use that kind of energy and play for people, and to have them be into what we do—to be able to show people that side of us, it's definitely worth the hassles of touring." So Friday night, when you're shaking uncontrollably to Animal Collective, don't worry about whether you're witnessing a bunch of freaks, pop craftsmen, shamans, or Beach Boys—you've got four human beings who left their families back home to use your energy to show you a side of themselves. You don't need an adjective for that—that's just awesome and honest, dude.