I have seen the future of rock and roll, and it is Animal Collective.
And not only the future of rock and roll: Animal Collective is the future of all music, in all genres, throughout all cultures. Call it post-civilization pop. Call it music of the collective unconscious. Whatever: Animal Collective makes music that accesses a deep part of the brain. It is the music we hear only at that moment before we fall asleep. And it is the music that causes us to sit bolt-upright in bed and shout in the middle of the night. It is the music we hear brief snatches of in the midst of orgasm or rage. One time, after a long, busy day without eating properly, I fainted briefly out in my driveway while talking to neighbors. The music I heard in the few seconds that I lay unconscious in the gravel, is the sort of music Animal Collective makes.
(An aside: You are doubtless familiar with the oft-quoted assertion, from 1974, of music-critic-turned-record-producer Jon Landau: "I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." But Bruce Springsteen was never rock and roll's future. Never. Perhaps, at his best, an amalgam of fifties R&B and mid-eighties stadium rock anthem, but nothing more or less. My point is: Animal Collective is indeed the future that Springsteen never was, and I'll go produce their records myself if that helps get the message out.
As for Springsteen, now he fronts a jug band, but that's a different review.)
On a practical level: First time I heard Animal Collective, I had walked into my local used CD shop while the sounds of their previous release, Sung Tongs" wafted out of the speakers. As I browsed the racks, the music subtly filtered into my conscience, and it wasn't long before my attention was so riveted, I had to fight the urge to jump over the counter, rip the CD out of the stereo, and run with it out into the street. This is the effect Animal Collective can have on otherwise reasonable people.
Perhaps what is called for at this point is an overview of Animal Collective's full-length recordings, at least the ones I'm familiar with. They've also released several EPs and singles, and a new DVD and I just realized I've missed a couple earlier releases, but I'll remedy that omission shortly.
Here Comes the Indian, their 2003 release, is a strong, boldly experimental offering, the sort of music that is almost totally unlistenable unless you're stoned off your ass, in which case it becomes a compelling and thoroughly engrossing musical experience indeed. It is a kind of dream music, sometimes with a beat, more often with an atmospheric whoosh and swirl. It wails, it screams, it explodes, it rolls up into a ball and whispers itself to sleep. It is apocalyptic in scope, but on a human scale, and not without hope. You will see visions and dream dreams, even as your cats scurry to hide under the bed.
(An aside: The case could be made that most, if not all, contemporary music can only be fully appreciated when one is stoned, be it Animal Collective, Ashlee Simpson, or the liturgical works of Estonian composer Arvo Part.)
Sung Tongs, their acoustic techno offering from 2004, differs from Indian in that, while it maintains the sonic wash and surge, it features actual songs with melodies-beginnings, middles, and ends-and lyrics that are sometimes intelligible, sometimes with only the barest radio-signal-from-distant-planets semblance to language. It's happy, it's playful. It's the sort of music we'll be playing around bonfires after the oil runs out, the global infrastructure collapses, and we have to learn how to grow our own crops and play our own musical instruments.
Feels, their latest CD, is post-civilization meets the Beach Boys. Not only does this recording have songs on it: it has pop. Shades of Magical Mystery Tour and solo Lennon, with a little Kinks and pre-disco Bee Gees thrown in. But don't misunderstand: Animal Collective has not regressed or become safe and palatable, easy marks for the soul-killing cookie-cutters and bean-counters of the recording industry. For all it's light-hearted tunefulness, the music still accesses those deep places in the psyche, skimming shimmering stones across the surface of your cerebral cortex-as well as hurling boulders with a ker-splash into the deep end of your brain, causing waves and bubbles, startling the synapses that swim off to hide amidst the weeds of your cerebellum. The music is sweeping, majestic, elegiac and tender, proud and sassy. You hear giggling children, you hear manic cheerleaders. You hear the tinkle of chimes in the incensed breeze around a mountain Zen temple, which in the span of seconds morphs into a smoky opium den in the valley below. As ever, Animal Collective is not afraid to play whatever music they feel like, beholden to no one. It's the music we'll play when we figure out how to get the solar generators up and running and can plug in the amps again.
You must go out and acquire all the Animal Collective recordings you can find, see them in concert or purchase their dvd. They are one of the few hopes we have for making sense of the human future.
Animal Collective is Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist, Deaken, Eyvind Kang, Anna Valtysdottir.
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