ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: CAMPFIRE SONGS (2003)
1) Queen In My Pictures; 2) Doggy; 3) Two Corvettes; 4) Moo Rah Rah Rain; 5)
One thing is absolutely impossible to deny about the Animal Collective (by the way, on this album they are still not the Animal Collective — in fact, here they have no name whatsoever): they certainly know how to make the same authentic, organic crap in a whole lot of different ways. Like its two predecessors, Campfire Songs is proverbially unlistenable, but it's an entirely other style of unlistenable. Which, for a brief while, even makes things exciting!
The players are Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and new band member Deakin (Josh Dibb in the alternative universe of The Establishment), whereas Geologist's talents are only used to operate the three Sony MiniDisc players that were employed to record the album. The only discernible instruments are acoustic guitars, around which the "Animals" weave a complex web of dreamy, repetitive singing. The finishing touch is the environment — all the recordings, done in one take, were "authentically" made on a screen porch, with chunks of "nature noises" also captured separately and then spliced together with the playing and singing. "Campfire Songs" indeed.
From a technical viewpoint, the vocal harmonies are the only thing worth praising. Already on the first album it was clear that Avey Tare and Panda Bear have a serious thing for the Beach Boys, which they like to combine with extra psychedelic punches. The fact that they're able to construct such tight, on-key harmonies while sitting on a porch is admirable, and, under different circumstances, I can imagine myself falling under this type of spell — even despite the piss-poor instrumentation (boring guitar drone that, at its best, somewhat recalls early Tyrannosaurus Rex, and, at its worst, sounds like something a four-year old with half a musical ear could beat out if he found a mysterious piece of hollowed out wood with six nylon strings attached in the closet). In fact, I think the album is at its questionable best when the guitar fades away completely and we are left with nothing but the hypnotic acappella sounds.
Unfortunately, the lower-than-lo-fi production completely kills it off for me. Spontaneity and authenticity is one thing, and awful recording quality is another. If these mantras were given a solid "brushing up", some part of them at least could have made a cute psychedelic experience in the tradition of Skip Spence and Tim Buckley. But when it all sounds like fortuitously captured transmissions from a World War II-era receiver, that part of the mind which is responsible for relaxation and tuning in to the Eternal enters into violent conflict with that other part of the mind which is responsible for intellectual decoding of received signals and separation of noise from information. Results are about as dreadful as combining pills with alcohol.
Not that this wasn't the purpose, of course, but it is hardly funny when talented people intentionally sacrifice their talents for the sake of making it into the Guinness Book of Weirdness. It may be respectable, especially considering that with each passing year, it becomes ever and ever more hard to actually make it (and the Animal Collective are one of the very few collectives that have a good chance); but it is not enjoyable at all. From a rational point of view, Campfire Songs is yet another album that sounds like nothing else, but in this matter, I'd rather cling to the irrational, which suggests that it is, in fact, bull-de-luxe, and since it so clearly begs for a thumbs down, I'll bite and award it with one.