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Animal Collective - Sung Tongs

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Artist: Animal Collective

Album: Sung Tongs

Label: FatCat

Review date: May. 27, 2004

For each of their four albums, Brooklyn's loosely organized Animal Collective (a name that only cemented in 2003) have shifted performing members in and out of the fold, thus creating a back catalogue that plays as a testament to the boundless creativity of one of today's most sweetly fucked experimental pop bands. Bowing initially with Avey Tare & Panda Bear's Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They've Vanished and emerging with the fully electric quartet recording of last year's Here Comes the Indian, the band has pulled their strains of psychedelic folk and rewired electronics through numerous direction shifts that have somehow always retained the group's indelible stamp. With Sung Tongs, their latest full length for FatCat, the Collective has come full circle, returning to the duo of their debut for a set of cracked tunes that tie together any loose ends left in the wake of their previous efforts.

As the Animal Collective has grown, so too has the list of influences that are consistently cited as reference points for their sound. And while constant references to shamanistic improv cults and "edge of sanity" psyche-folk icons may have once been exceedingly apt, the Collective's newer material finds all of those markers somewhat off. If anything, their latest outing is a bit more restrained than previous efforts, balancing a measure of each part of their history with an equal amount of control, often allowing only the simplest of chord phrases and arrangements to speak.

The opening tracks establish the varying infinitives that the duo cater to throughout this release, with "Who Could Win a Rabbit," exploding in a Technicolor display of psyche-tinged circus music. With tribal percussion thumping in the background amidst handclaps, the duo weave their vocals throughout simple guitar lines, crashing their voices on top of each other, piling image after image onto the listener in a relentless barrage, contrasting nicely against the strums of the lead-off "Leaf House." Even more surprising here is the sheer gentility that abounds with tracks like "Kids on Holiday" - a winsome child's narrative about the joys of running through an airport, backed simply by spare acoustic repetition and a rusted drum loop that sounds downright pastoral. And in lesser hands, the back and forth interplay between hushed guitar picking and urgent vocals shouts on "Mouth Wooed Her" might seem a bizarre match, but here it sounds perfectly normal - a snapshot of a pop song as both seductive and truly bizarre.

The only real misstep on the record comes from the album's centerpiece, the 12-minute opus of "Visiting Friends." When compared to the other tracks on Sung Tongs, it shows the Animal Collective has mastered the short burst of psychedelic melody. There is nothing patently offensive about the song, but set in opposition to a record full of brief patches of focused brilliance, its simple melodic theme eventually grows stale.

From the outset, the Collective’s varying members have always displayed a penchant for childlike fascinations, in both their lyrics and arrangements. And while that naive sense of wonder still permeates the music here, it's kept in check, used more as a lyrical foil and less as an overall thematic construct. And while the group has displayed a sometimes annoying tendency to ditch previous efforts and ideas in favor of newer, odder experiments, their contraction to a duo has allowed Avey Tare and Panda Bear to focus a few of the constituent parts from their back catalogue. While some may scoff at the gentler side of the Animal Collective (especially when contrasted with the fully electric assault of last year's studio release), Sung Tongs easily stands alone as a crowning achievement in their eclectic discography, one that finds the group fully in control of their musical prowess and all the better for it.

By Michael Crumsho

Other Reviews of Animal Collective

Here Comes the Indian

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




Strawberry Jam

Water Curses

Merriweather Post Pavilion

Fall Be Kind

Centipede Hz

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View all articles by Michael Crumsho

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