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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Animal Collective: ODDSAC


1) Mr. Fingers; 2) Kindle Song; 3) Satin Orb Wash; 4) Green Beans; 5) Screens; 6) Urban Creme; 7) Working; 8) Tantrum Barb; 9) Lady On The Lake; 10) Fried Camp; 11) Fried Vamp; 12) Mess Your House; 13) What Happened?

Technically, Animal Collective's next project after Fall Be Kind was not a proper «album» — it was a joint visual/audio product, with AC providing the music and director Danny Perez provi­ding the spectral hallucinations on the screen. Since the whole thing was made in tandem, it might be reasonably asserted that the music is no good here without the visuals, and that the visuals are worthless without the music. However, anyone familiar with the whole story of Ani­mal Collective will immediately realize that the music is not that different from typical AC so as not to work without the accompanying imagery — and, personally, having watched several of the psychedelic sequences filmed by Perez, I can safely state that this is indeed so. If we can listen to, enjoy, and get inspired by ʽI Am The Walrusʼ and ʽFlyingʼ without necessarily having to watch the Beatles running around in funny suits on the former or delirious rainbow coloring of the sky on the latter, we can do the same with ODDSAC (speaking of which, I do have a suspicion that the experience of Magical Mystery Tour might have been one of the inspirations here).

So I'm just going to say a few words about ODDSAC (whatever that title deciphers to — I pro­pose Over­blown Demented Delirious Stories by the Animal Collective) as a collection of new music, free from any sort of ties to any sort of visuals. (Besides, with the aid of proper substances, anyone is probably capable of conjuring one's own visuals here — why should you feel chained to somebody else's artistic vision?).

In a way, the whole project might have simply been a clever ruse. With Merriweather Post Pavil­lion and its alarming success that almost (but not quite) put the band on the brink of main­stream acceptance, they must have felt an acute need to remind the world that they were, first and foremost, a bunch of musical crazies, not a school of musical gurus. Listen to ʽMy Girlsʼ and ʽNo More Runnin'ʼ long enough and, who knows, you might start discerning the meaning of life in their basic structures (just as your parents did with Pet Sounds a whole wide world ago). In other words, they got too serious, and the emotionality in their music got way too similar to normal hu­man emotionality. One step further and you turn into Radiohead. Two steps, and you turn into Prodigy. Three steps, and whoah, you're the Backstreet Boys...

...all right, that was really a joke, but the idea is clear enough. Hence, a change in direction, slyly motivated by technical reasons — being interested in adapting the music to a set of modern post-post-post-impressionist visuals. This gives the AC a good pretext for turning away from the «nor­malized» melodicity of Pavillion and for returning to their roots — chaotic psychedelia with no limits or boundaries. More than half of ODDSAC is closer in spirit to AC's earliest albums, only with much better production.

A few of the tracks are still made in their trademark psycho-folk style — with acoustic guitars, sprinkly chimes, falsettos, criss-crossed vocal harmonies, and a certain sentimental elegance; I mainly refer to ʽScreensʼ and ʽWorkingʼ here; plus, Beach Boys-like harmonies additionally crop up from time to time, for instance, on the closing track (ʽWhat Happened?ʼ). Atmospheric and re­specting the legacy of Pavillion, but nowhere near as memorable as the best stuff on their «main­stream masterpiece», they do an important job — providing some relief from all the weirdness — but they are not what ODDSAC is really about.

But what is it about? Overcrowding, I guess. With all the jungly overdubs, all the animalistic and totemistic vocalizing tracks, all the tribal beats and nature sounds, ODDSAC is probably their best attempt, so far, to emulate the living soul of a parallel universe. Not a sci-fi universe, mind you, of the kind usually preferred by their colleagues in the electronic department — quite an or­ganic one, with busy street life (ʽMr. Fingersʼ), ghosts spooking lonely wanderers in the woods (ʽSatin Orb Washʼ), collective celebrations on feast days (ʽTantrum Barbʼ), large swamps spew­ing out poisonous, hallucinogenic fumes (ʽLady On The Lakeʼ), and whatever else you'd like to extract from your own mind to substitute Danny Perez's unnecessary fantasies.

Even the album's lonesome attempt at emulating an «industrial» mood (ʽUrban Cremeʼ) never attains the icy, mercyless, robotic cold of, say, Autechre, as the busy, static sonics of functioning equipment are still accompanied by «organic» sounds. Scary robotic equipment can never be that scary when it is humming, beeping, and clanging against a background of chirping birds and croa­king frogs. Or, to be more precise, of chirping-croaking frogbirds, because the world of AC is full of non-trivial species whose evolution path followed the same individual mutations as the brain cells of Avey Tare and Panda Bear.

What makes this stuff better than, for instance, Here Comes The Indian (this early AC release is probably the closest in spirit to ODDSAC) is — apart from extra complexity, improved pro­duction, and shorter length of the individual tracks, all of which helps — the fact that in between the two, there was Merriweather Post Pavillion, a demarcation line, having crossed which the band could never really be the same again. Yes, they are making a different album here, but they are not fascistic purists, and they retain all the gained experience, and this concerns not just the lovely vocal harmonies, but also the use of «light» electronic tones — chiming, jingling, sprink­ling, such as the sonic kaleidoscope of ʽMess Your Houseʼ, a track that is way too chaotic to fully match my tastes, but still sounds bright and optimistic, even despite all the jarring explosions and screams with which it is bombarded on a regular basis.

My only — minor, but real — disappointment is that, to a large extent, all of this stuff is some­how «nostalgic». It's as if they have grown up, matured, learned a lot, and now are returning back to base to «do it all over again» from scratch, so that you can now throw away all of their pre-Sung Tongs records and replace them with ODDSAC. But then again, who am I to com­plain?... seeing as how I am pretty much doing the same thing with my own reviews. Thumbs up, that much at least is for certain.

Check "ODDSAC" (DVD) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. I've watched the movie twice and while it's mostly a neat watch, I agree that it doesn't add anything major to the music. At best it works as cool music videos, and at worst it somewhat detracts from the songs (I find all the spiralling psychedelic imagery really distracting). I kind of feel the whole movie thing was yet another attempt by the band at separating themselves from the audience. I have to give them credit for finding a way to followup their most successful album to date with something that went completely under the radar. Most websites and comments on ODDSAC reviewed it as a film and not as an album. And many casual Animal Collective fans still don't even know this exists! But it's their loss really since this album is great. Ditch the visuals and it plays out like everything the band wanted to be in their early days but couldn't quite figure out yet.
    The nostalgic feeling you're getting is understandable, for the first time ever the band is looking back instead of ahead, but there is a good reason for that. Apparently this album was recorded over a much longer span of time than any of their other records including some sessions dating as far back as the Feels era. So it kind of plays out like several eras of the band all mushed together, which I think is pretty neat.
    Anyway, the songwriting is strong (Mr. Fingers, Tantrum Barb, Screens, and What Happened have become some of my favourite AnCo tunes) and the soundscapey stuff is highly engaging. So another winner for Animal Collective!