Animal Collective is a group of electronic music artists from Baltimore, Maryland. The four members of the band have been making music together since 2000, and have released material at a steady pace since then. Animal Collective is made up of:
The foursome have explored a lot of ground while staying within the bounds their unique electronic pop sound. In earlier albums like Sung Tongs and Feels, a lot of the instrumentation comes from looping samples of acoustic guitars, but in recent work they've relied much more on synthesizers. The beats are always extremely understated, sometimes with a single repeating click or drum sound, or often, just a quick guitar chord played over and over. Even when there is a drum beat present, it is buried underneath so many other sounds that it goes unnoticed. Animal Collective songs have a fluidity to them that is rarely encountered outside of ambient music.
Much of the music is repetitive, so listeners have the opportunity to explore the other sounds being introduced over the course of a song. aside from the occasional boisterous dance track, the instrumentals are usually simple and pleasant, and if it weren't for the vocals it might make good music to fall asleep to. However, there are vocals, and they are front-and-center in nearly every song. Animal Collective utilizes voice for wild, wordless shrieking, gentle humming or chanting, soft whispering, and everything in between. They use vocals as an instrument rather than just a method of delivering words. The name "animal collective" may seem like a silly name, but it is a surprisingly accurate description of the group's sound. The unrestrained vocal eruptions and looping background chattering combine to form an intense kinetic environment that isn't a far cry from the natural cacophony of a zoo. Even the actual singing changes unpredictably in pitch and volume.
The lyrics are surprising clear most of the time, and are often childlike and colourful. There is sometimes an odd, adolescent sexuality to them. The content is frequently (but not always) made up of nonsense, describing bizarre and humourous scenes in the vein of Blonde On Blonde-era Bob Dylan songs. The heavy use of electronic sampling added to the nostalgic fixation on childhood may remind someone of Boards Of Canada, but Animal Collective is far more energetic and excitable. Animal Collective is Boards Of Canada's younger brother with ADHD who won't sit still long enough to eat the rest of his Cheerios. Not all of the material is so fast-paced and cheery, though. Animal Collective is just as skilled at creating slow, warm songs as fun ones, and each album is a mix of both.
The Animal Collective live show is noteworthy because of the group's tendency to blend and remix their album songs when playing them in front of an audience. They explain this by pointing out that people are paying for the tickets, and shouldn't have to listen to something they could at home. Instead, samples from one song may be inserted into another, and each one segues smoothly into the next. For some types of music this approach to performing works better on paper than in practice, but the music of Animal Collective might as well have been designed for it.
Something I have noticed about Animal Collective is how hard it is to move from one album to another. Fans of Sung Tongs may be more reluctant to listen to Merriweather Post Pavilion, or vice versa. I started with Strawberry Jam and fell in love with it instantly, but I couldn't stand 90% of Feels or Sung Tongs when I heard them. Slowly, the albums grew on me, and I began to appreciate the differences rather than dwelling on the slight similarities. It takes time but happens eventually.
Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished (2000)
Danse Manatee (2001)
Campfire Songs (2003)
Here Comes the Indian (2003)
Sung Tongs (2004)
Strawberry Jam (2007)
Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)
Prospect Hummer (2005)
Water Curses (2008)
Fall Be Kind (2009)
Animal Collective has released material on different labels, including FatCat, Domino, and Paw Tracks (which the group runs). Members Avey Tare and Panda Bear have also done side projects and solo albums.