Tues Aug 24
10 SW 3rd
Can "meow"ing loudly be a form of protest? It feels that way with Animal Collective, a Brooklyn-based, electro-acoustic folk-pop band consisting of four childhood friends who go by the monikers Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Geologist (Brian Wentz), and Deaken. The band, making good on its namesake, peppers its blissful, experimental pop and wayward sinewaves with all form of animal onomatopoeia, including the tenderest parts of bird chirps, dolphins sounds, whalesong, crickets--and kittens, through the long, longing chorus "Meeeeeoooowwww". Maniacally, they channel the life-speak of all variants of the animal kingdom, and in this sanguine era of aggression, it sounds like life. (Especially when they sing the song that goes, "She's gonna have a baaaaby!" ["Baby Day"].)
Animal Collective, whose core consists of Avey Tare and Panda Bear, has released six records in four years, all artfully conceived experiments in the union of pop and noise. (Of course, experimentation always has some weak spots, and it can make for some not-quite-perfect art-school moments, but the success ratio is abnormally high. They know what's up.) They've traveled the lands from abstract tone-bending to explosive, pulsing pop songs, but their most recent album, Sung Tongs, is focused, coherent, transcendent bliss: baubly vocal harmonies and levitating drums give momentum to cloudy bits of sound art, coming-apart guitars, electro-tribal rhythms--for the first time, they are truly conjoining their sense of improvisation with their precise, conceptual songwriting. In meditation, it's called finding your center: discovering that perfect point where body and soul merge into one, a natural synthesis of corporeal existence and spiritual ethereality. (Yes, we're on some hippie shit; just roll with it.)
Or maybe time and zeitgeist have simply caught up to them.
As the pendulum shifts to a new age of the nouveau hippie--with bands like AC's billmates Black Dice shedding their destroy-all leanings for more metaphysical/tribal/folky touchstones, noizecore brutalists gunning for chakra sounds, and gnomic folkies such as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom enjoying unpredictable popularity--it's mimicking a social pattern last seen so explicitly in the era of Vietnam, when the Dionysian chaos of the mid-'60s gave way to the safer, escapist bosom of Joni Mitchell, and Animal Collective's wild, somewhat innocent abandon is all synced up with what the people want. (How else could a band with a predilection for ambient tone patterns sell out mid-level venues?) To clarify, though, they don't seem interested in resurrecting some crystal-light healing; instead, they are constantly turning their music inside out, exploring the primal (but not primitive) through sound experiments, silence, and gear-monkeying. And so, when the injustice and inhumanity in the world is at its most prevalent, music is what separates us from the animals--or, more specifically, the animalistic acts of humans.
And it ain't lofty, which makes for a bitchin' live show. Where Animal Collective has been spotty in the past, playing long, linear, drawn-out meta-acoustic guitar jams (as seen on last summer's tour) and/or 45-minute electronic noise smackdown (as seen three years ago at the now-decomposed Blackbird), this tour reflects the work on Sung Tongs--all ebullience, pop, awesome shine, and rosy cheeks. And as a band, they've recently tapped into some best-friends-making-a-run-for-the-Sunny D shit. Basically, imagine stumbling into four hyperactive kids' slumber party, and you have an idea.
But the most remarkable thing here--and probably their biggest accomplishment--is that, while you might overhear someone in the audience asking "What the fuck is this?" they are still completely transfixed, and only wondering as much over the silence. Animal Collective feels like they're bucking the system by being defiantly alive. And in the middle of a high-pressure system of gently rolling cloud-sounds and guitar breaks, when Avey Tare howls the chorus of Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You," you know he means it from the bottom of his heart.