The way the first track "Peacebone" seems to start midstream in the midst of some delay pedal mishap of loops and jittery crittering is exactly how a listener new to the Collective must feel popping this disk. These digital hippies have been riding the crest of hipster credibility since sleepy eyed boys in asymmetric haircuts were intoning "I was into them on Here Comes the Indian" when they hit their creative nadir in 2004 with Sung Tongs. Their 2005 album Feels pushed the Brian Wilson shoo-be-doo side of the Collective and for me, lost the way, but this new release brings the Animalistic peace train back on its hover track. And just as quickly, derails it.
"Unsolved Mysteries" flips and flops around the melody in that run-it-all-through-the-tremolo way Animal Collective does so well. I can't really discern the singers, but they swoon and croon with the best of them as the melody circumnavigates them, as if they were standing in a metal sphere at the circus, and the song itself was riding a daredevil motorcycle in electron orbits around them. "Chores" is even better, doing their campfire ritual shtick, with drum sounds stretched and pitch shifted as the members work themselves into a stutter/trance. Woe betide you if your CD has a skip on it during parts of this song; minutes may go by before you realize it. The song collapses toward the end in almost sexual climax, slowly picking up speed for a second round. It rumbles, thuds, moans and giggles all at once, like an EKG reading from an elaborate hookah. I love this stuff.
"For Reverend Green" continues this trajectory, all chug-a-chug and woo hoo and I start to wonder if the whole damn record is going to do this. Listening to it is a lot like hanging out with a group of stoners: at first you think, man, these folks are tapped into something but hours later you are wondering why they are still having the same conversation, and are we really going to watch that movie a third time?
"Fireworks" is somewhat of a shift, with the band yelping ecstatic over a skittery beat. I used to think of Animal Collective as a lost tribe discovered living in some crawlspace in Brooklyn, but now that they are fully assimilated in out world, I view them as folk-rockers who have traded in their battered acoustic guitars for battered guitar pedals through which they pump themselves. "#1" is a prime example: 3 and a half minutes of a rock sitting on the keys of the sequencer with the group issuing little snippets of melody, kettle drums here and there. I'm not sure if its reductively brilliant output from geniuses or the manically annoying tinkering of a pest.
"Winter Wonder Land" gave me hope, since "Winter" is my favorite track from Sung Tongs, but this sounds like a Jan and Dean ballad run though the deli slicer (extra-thin, please) and haphazardly reassembled back into a ham. Maybe I'm being too harsh. This stuff is interesting enough to register, which is something, but I keep wanting more, a refinement of their past efforts rather than a loose phoning in of their mild innovations. "Cuckoo Cuckoo" is a nice minimal wash occasionally punctuated but almost martial drum bursts, descending into some organic violent metamorphic fits at points before returning abruptly to placidity. More of this, less Smile- in-the-paint-shaker, please, or as closing track "Derek" chants, "I want it.I want it...I wannnnnt it"
A friend once described a tape of experimental music I was playing for him as "I bet this was more fun to make than it is to listen to" and I have used that dictum as a separation line between the wheat and the chaff for out rock, and this record straddles the line. I still think Animal Collective has the potential to do something great, magnificent, and transcendent even. Unlike most of the noise/folk/improve noodlers, Animal Collective is uniquely of the times, using technological detritus to catch glimpses of the rising sun, but this record indicates they are still in the bong hit phase of planning the revolution.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com