ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: SUNG TONGS (2004)
1) Leaf House; 2) Who Could Win A Rabbit; 3) The Softest Voice; 4) Winters Love; 5) Kids On Holiday; 6) Sweet Road; 7) Visiting Friends; 8) College; 9) We Tigers; 10) Mouth Wooed Her; 11) Good Lovin' Outside; 12) Whaddit I Done.
Finally, the state of Grace has been attained. Sung Tongs is, almost inarguably so, the Animal Collective at their most accessible (which is still pretty darn inaccessible) — and, coincidentally, the one album on which they finally demonstrate the purpose of their very existence.
Unlike Indian, it is not at all heavy on special effects; many of the tracks are almost completely acoustic, with light, bright melodies that hearken back to the psycho-folk of Spirit. One big distinction is the production: despite the fact that, just as usual, all the songs were recorded in, shall we say, clinically non-sterile conditions, the "lo-fi feel" is completely missing, making me think that the filthy sonic hooliganry of Campfire Songs was, in fact, perfectly intentional.
But, most importantly, the thing that really matters is the singing. To appreciate this, I think one must forget the gimmickry, the weirdness, the musical minimalism, and concentrate on the manner in which Avey Tare and Panda Bear weave their waves — best exemplified on the opening track, 'Leaf House'. This time, I know what this reminds me of: the Incredible String Band, at their psycho peak in 1967-68. But the Animal Collective have set themselves the brave task of outdoing their gurus, and in a sense, a technical one at least, they succeed: the up and down and out of town undulations of their speech signals are unlike anything I've ever heard. They're neither heavenly, like with the Cocteau Twins, nor scary, like with your average Siberian shaman; neither ugly, like with Yoko Ono, nor beautiful, like with Tim Buckley. What are they?
I am not talking here about the album's low points, mind you, which it still possesses. From time to time the duo seems to be wanting to hypnotize us in the old way — blubbering and grumbling over an endless repetition of two chords (twelve minutes worth of 'Visiting Friends'), or simply letting what starts off as a cute moment of tenderness evolve into seven minutes of boredom ('The Softest Voice' — indeed, and not necessarily a bonus). But everything must be forgiven with 'Kids On Holiday', which plows on ahead on the strength of the same two chords, yet within a vocal setting that will twirl your head until it falls off.
In short, the old modus operandi — combining the psychedelic with the child-like — has come back with a vengeance. 'You don't have to go to college', goes the lone lyrical line on 'College', and, sure, why should you? Going to college requires killing off, or at least restraining your inner child, and there's no liking Sung Tongs without releasing the inner child. I cannot imagine anyone who does not have a streak of Peter Pan within, or Tinker Bell at least, to get a kick out of all the wah-wah-wahs on 'Whaddit I Done' (but I refuse to let the truth out about whether I get a kick out of it or not).
Actually, at the risk of sounding completely off my rocker, I'd say that the best possible audience for Sung Tongs would be a kiddie one — that a three-year old, under the right circumstances, would get more out of it than any adolescent or adult raised on "proper" music. Some might want to extrapolate this over just about any avantgarde piece of art, but I doubt if a typical three-year old could be enticed with Ornette Coleman or Throbbing Gristle; Sung Tongs, to me, sound like the perfect non-ordinary soundtrack for the non-ordinary mind of the youngster whose speech mechanisms have not yet become fully separate from his musical mechanisms. If you have a toddler, try it out. It can do no harm, can it?
For all the lovely, unpredictable, and amazingly complex vocal work, these Beach Boys on acid and lollipops get an unquestionable thumbs up from the terrified brain department. Obviously, the heart must keep quiet; not being a three-year old, a mental patient, a ganja lover, or The Man Who Came To Earth, I don't "love" this record and I never will. But some of us here on Earth do happen to be Flying Spaghetti Monsters in denial, so I am not rejecting the possibility of at least a certain amount of mature organic matter dripping real feeling for Sung Tongs.