The incredibly talented Vincent “Hey Is It Okay If I Get Called V-Sides?” Rendoni did such a wonderful job with his write-up on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks that we decided we wanted him back. Luckily for all of us, he came back with this great write-up on Animal Collective that, personally, I could not agree with more… but read on and decide for yourselves.
Animal Collective: “Fireworks” (download)
Not that it’s much of a surprise to anyone who has ever heard it, but “Fireworks” was one of the best songs of 2007. With a steam-engine beat and a background of frolicking hums, you think you were listening to some kind intergalactic train running, at least, until the lead vocals chime in. Now, I don’t forget that Animal Collective has always been the kind of band whose lyrics are either too muddled to hear or too vague to waste time analyzing, but when Avey Tare begins to sing, you can hear the sincere quiver in his voice when he begins, “Now it’s day / I’ve been trying to get that taste off my tongue,” quickly developing an image of being at the breakfast table in the morning, thinking of things past longer than we should have, as all the while, our cereal is congealing. A small bit of piano takes us to a beach illuminated by fireworks and Tare admits to us as much as himself that he’s only what he sees sometimes. You’re shocked. This song has somehow fused melody and celestial ambiance into a spectacular being. Your clap your hands in tiny glee. The piano and melodic howling play hopscotch around each other, brilliantly closing the song…
Thing is, it’s only about 2:35 in the song with about 4:14 left. You will notice in the above paragraph, I said “Fireworks” was one of the best songs of 2007. It very easily could’ve been the best song of 2007, but then Animal Collective do what they typically do – disrupt and soil the underpants of the universally beautiful thing they created and for a lack of better words, get fucking weird. Shortly after where the song should’ve ended or evolved, there’s a sonic lull at 2:41 and the song wanders, sputters, and only what would seem predictably for this band, they let loose some random yips, howls, and barks. In contrast to the spectral fire they’ve created in the first part of the song, they go ahead and fucking salt and pickle themselves, replacing the piano with nausea-inducing Casio beeps and singing, well, whatever the fuck this is–
I’ve been eatin’ with a good friend / Who said a genie made me out of the earth’s skin / In spite of her, she is my birth kin / She spits me out in her surly blood rivers / All the people out lurkin’ / And dominions of the hot Turk dish / If the elephants are reaching for our purses / Meet me after the whirlwind shivers
I could handle hearing that once. The second and third time he decided to repeat it, increasing the volume and headaches with a brain-sizzling, treble-soaked scream that just gets bigger and bigger… Well, not so much. This song isn’t even over yet. I wish it was. We’re saved though — Shortly after the nausea-inducing middle of the song, at about 4:35, it removes the yips and sirens and sends the song back down to this planet. The chorus is nearly indiscernible from the first time we heard it, but it ends up sounding better, as if in the span of six minutes and fifty-one seconds, we’ve forgotten what the band is capable of. It closes appropriately, salvaging the song. But what makes me want to rip my hair out is that it didn’t have to be fucking salvaged in the first place. “Fireworks” is the microcosm of everything that is both wonderful and absolutely infuriating about Animal Collective.
One of my favorite little tidbits from their most accessible album, Sung Tongs, is “College.” It’s not even a minute long, but it begins with a radiant harmony straight out of Brian Wilson’s playbook. When it ends, I’m so pissed because the song frankly is just a tease. However, nearly as memorable is the fact that in the background of the song it either sounds like someone frying an egg or taking a whiz… If you figure it out, get back to me or Taylor. Similar problems occur in the song “Leaf House.” The entrance is a scorching slap to the face and we’re greeted with gloomy, tribal call-and-response vocals. The song is utterly haunting and plays to the obscure strengths of the band. As we reach the end of the song, approaching climax, we are greeted with –meows? And a background of kitties? You’re right, why am I surprised that “Fireworks” ended the way it did? The evidence is all here.
Make no mistake, I’m with T-Sides 100% on this one: Strawberry Jam was one of the most disappointing albums of 2007. I couldn’t wait for its release. Upon first listen towards the record, I realized how appropriately the album art — a squashed, bleeding strawberry –matched my own feelings. I honestly can’t believe that this band, this band that was lucky enough to be paired with the folk legend Vashti Bunyan and produce one of the most beautiful EPs of the 2000s could also in turn, release both Feels and Strawberry Jam. What’s worse, is that I feel Animal Collective is moving away from their melodic strengths. Feels, Strawberry Jam, even a large part of Sung Tongs all have these long, expansive songs with howls, screaming “ but it’s dark and it’s hollow. They’re more interested in creating damp sonic environments than actual songs. I’m all for experimentation. I don’t mind non-linear songs. I do mind when it doesn’t resemble anything. Most fans probably think I don’t get Animal Collective. Okay, you’re right. I don’t get albums with five minute songs of whispering and endless loops. I don’t get concerts that are glorified jam-sessions. I don’t get songs about winning fucking rabbits. You’re mad at me because I don’t see the experimental progress they’ve made and what they’re trying to do. It’s not that I’m mad because they haven’t learned anything, I’m mad because they obviously could have, but didn’t do anything about it. They could make more haunting, bone-chilling songs, but no, it’s a lot more likely to hear flatulence on a microphone in their future works than something ripped from Pet Sounds.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you’ll buy Water Curses. But let me tell you what happens when you do: You’re still secretly hoping it will be a return to their vast potential. The opening, self-titled track comes at you like an aqueous punch. You’re almost grinning, you’re liking where this is going — but then, of course, the overbearing organ squeals and the vocals become incomprehensible, but not enough to fully blend into the wall of sound and they’re not quiet enough to ignore. You sigh, flip to the next song, but it’s hard to say that as they’re obviously not interested in making real songs anymore. When you can’t even make it past “Street Flash” on this EP (and you will quite easily see why) you will tell yourself that you need to stop getting excited about this once heavily, now unbearably flawed band.