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Animal Collective - Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished/Danse Manatee

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Artist: Animal Collective

Album: Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished/Danse Manatee

Label: FatCat

Review date: Jan. 5, 2004

The Animal Collective surprises with every turn. They combine an unlikely orchestra of sounds and their songs amble across structures instead of repeating them. After composing a short melody, they break it and walk away. Eight-minute songs might never hit a noticeable groove, but instead cloud the seas with drones and hollers. Along the way, any number of unexpected noises, characters, and hairpin turns keep the experience lively, unsettling, alienating for some listeners, and all the more engrossing for others.

Most immediately striking is their wonderful collection of sounds that are both layered and paper-thin at the same time. Along with an acoustic guitar and airy percussion, they compose electronic sound clouds that easily mix foggy wisps and diffused tones with synthesized washes and piercing Raymond Scott melodies. Static shards and high frequencies make sure none of these combinations goes too soft. Voices flex from light, thin folk into urgent wails on a dime. Amazingly, the Animal Collective take folk-pop and psychedelic freak-outs and stew them in the same pot with Mego Records and experimental electronics.

Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished features two of the four Collective members, Avey Tare and Panda Bear, and the album initially arrived in 2000. It begins with a surprising combination of abstract electronics and engaging melody. The digital cloud of “Spirit They’ve Vanished” eases into the twisted pop of “April and the Phantom,” with a cleansing burst of noise in between. The twelve-minute album closer is a particularly fantastic creation. Where some moments throughout the album might lose focus or wander too far, “Alvin Row” reins in and eases loose in perfect ways. Melody emerges from tumbling messes, simple piano/vocal/rhythm setups slowly untangle into layered transitions, and perfect electronic hooks ornament the proceedings. The song expands and contracts easily; it sprawls and then briskly pushes forward without a hitch.

Danse Manatee includes a third Collective member, Geologist, and was released in 2001. “Penguin Penguin” and “Essplode” surround the vocals with brittle whistles and whines, shuffling percussion, and noisy shards. “Thrown the Round Ball,” “Running the Round Ball,” and “Bad Crumbs” are two-minute gems that jam multiple, manipulated, or looped voices with shaky rhythms, panning droney cymbals, and static edges. “In the Singing Box” begins with a playful back and forth between the right and left speaker, and then grows into a similar pattern that alternates brief drone parts with layered rhythmic parts. This mix breaks down into some kind of Morse code and then into an idiosyncratic Casio-pop with rattling percussion.

2003 was a big year for Animal Collective, which saw the release of the acclaimed Here Comes the Indian as well as the re-release these two albums. With such a breathtaking range – from naïve folk to tribal romps to digital atmospheres - and unpredictable structures, audiences might be overwhelmed or confused by the Collective. They fold so many treasures into these albums that it would be a shame for people not to pay attention.

By Jeff Seelbach

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