Animal Collective - Spirit They're Gone Spirit They've Vanished/Naïve Melodies

This music makes our dogs run out of the room

 

I'll begin with a brief note about the history of the band – not that I should, as it is more than likely to put you off. The people that make up Animal Collective all grew up together and attended what are described as 'progressive' schools in the rural idyll of Baltimore County, Maryland. They had happy childhoods. Now such a background does not usually auger well. And when I say that the people in the band go by names such as Panda Bear and Geologist you're probably thinking that nothing on earth could get you to listen to the music they make. But you'd be wrong.

 

Spirit They're Gone Spirit They've Vanished (Spirit from now on) was recorded before the band left college. It's made up of acoustic guitars, drums, piano, synthesisers, and is accompanied by a load of electronic fx and feedback. There's singing on all of the tracks but this is generally pretty far back in the mix and acts more as an extra instrument than a focal point – most of the lyrics are indistinct. The singing is unashamedly fey and recalls Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue at his most wistful. As for the sound – well, these are childhood friends and I think that it is impossible not to notice this and the effect that it has on their music. It helps explain, for example, how the album is in one sense completely hermetic. It is the product of two people's universe (in this case – on later albums other friends join them) and there doesn't seem to be any room for any other influences to permeate it. It also helps explain the childlike nature to most of the songs. Now then, I don't like children so I had better explain myself here. The songs are innocent and wide-eyed. From what can be gleaned from the lyrics some of the songs concern growing up and there is an overall feeling of psychedelic lullabies being sung.

 

Not that is a twee album of gentle strumming and fey singing. Spirit opens the album with a wall of static. The airy vocals sit on electronic insect chatter and the song exits on a drone. April and the Phantom features huge slabs of electro noise and pained shrieking alongside the gentle melody and strummed acoustic guitars. Most of the songs follow this kind of template – long, meandering songs with simple and beautiful melodies that are never allowed to completely settle. The tapes and electronic fx could be seen as gimmicky - a way of rounding out what otherwise would be rather normal songs. But this would miss the point because a) the fx are clearly instrumental to the album and are not some kind of add on and b) the songs would never be normal even if the electronics were absent.

 

The naivety and the earnestness mark them out as something very unusual indeed. In no way could this ever be a mainstream album. It somehow manages to be very weird whilst at the same time containing simple and beautiful melodies.

 

The album currently comes with the follow up album (Danse Matanee) included. Though more of the collective appear on this one it is probably the weakest album they have made. Campfire Songs and Here Comes the Indian are other great albums by the Collective and Sung Tongs from last year is their most 'coherent' song-based album.

 

 

They've also just recorded an e.p. with Vashti Bunyan and have another

album ready for release. All of their albums are worth tracking down, but I'd particularly recommend looking out for this one, not least because when Southern Records first played it they asked the band if there was something wrong with it. The reason they gave – 'This music makes our dogs run out of the room.'