Live review: Animal Collective at Warehouse Next Door
By Chris Richards , April 1, 2004
What's in a name? Plenty, for a band like Animal Collective. The New York avant-rock outfit applies a primal energy to sophisticated electronic music, using the artifice of technology to evoke something organic, untamed and ravenously beautiful.
The quartet appeared Tuesday at Warehouse Next Door, a budding venue near the Washington Convention Center, performing two thrilling song cycles. The first drifted back and forth between watery, psychedelic meanderings and tribal, Krautrock-inspired rave-ups. Dave Portner and Josh Dibb bobbed and swayed to the dreamy tremolo of their guitars while Noah Lennox and Brian Weltz crouched near the floor, manipulating an arsenal of samplers, drums and effects pedals. Never seduced by the brute force of their potential electronic din, Lennox and Weltz shrewdly rationed the hiccups and blurts with splendid results.
Animal Collective spent its second wind excavating subtle pop hooks buried beneath layers of streaming atmospherics. The anticipation created during the band's ambient wandering was rewarded by Portner's explosive vocalizations and Lennox's blunt assault on a pair of drums. Songs bloomed with reverb-laden melodies, as if the Beatles' magical mystery tour had savagely reemerged after a wrong turn into the jungle's most treacherous depths. The quartet abandoned its instruments for an unruly finale of stomping and hollering, a display that resembled a scene from "Lord of the Flies."
Read a dozen more reviews after the jump...
Album review: Animal Collective, “Sung Tongs”
By Mark Jenkins, April 22, 2005
"Mee-ow / Kitties / Mee-ow / Kitties." That's how the first song on Animal Collective's "Sung Tongs" ends, and no post-kindergarten listener could be blamed for deciding that it will also be his last Animal Collective song.
This overly precious Brooklyn, N.Y., (with a Baltimore County connection) duo is an acid flashback of a band, and that flashback is not to Hendrix or Jefferson Airplane but to the most childish of flower children. This is an album, after all, whose catchiest song is titled "Who Could Win a Rabbit."
When the Collective departs the petting zoo, it's often for some sort of enchanted forest, where acoustic guitars sway in the breeze and nonsense syllables tumble like autumn leaves. "The Softest Voice," for example, arrays pretty warbles atop delicate finger picking. The band's members, who call themselves Avey Tare and Panda Bear, do sometimes join a drum circle, notably on the pound-and-chant "We Tigers." Even at their noisiest, however, Tare and Bear are more kitties than tigers.
Live review: Animal Collective at Black Cat
By Patrick Foster, April 27, 2005
The first tune Animal Collective played Monday night at the Black Cat lasted nearly 90 minutes. The piece was actually a nonstop, free-flowing set, but the strategy served the Brooklyn-based outfit well, as the musicians slowly shaped scattered tones, drones and beats into a kaleidoscopic, spine-tingling trance.
The Collective often appears as a duo but was a quartet Monday: core pair Panda Bear (drums, vocals) and Avey Tare (guitars, vocals) were joined by guitarist Deakin and electronics twiddler Geologist. Despite the spacey, straight-outta-the-commune monikers and near-constant hopping and swaying around the stage, they maintained a remarkable musical alliance, coalescing on a common pulse that veered from barely audible nature thrums to searing interior nightmares.
Animal Collective's most recent record, "Sung Tongs" (and an upcoming EP with Vashti Bunyan) features delicate acoustic dreamscapes, but the band's live set drew power from effects-laden electric guitars. The Collective weaved suggestions of its own deeply skewed pop songs ("Kids on Holiday," "We Tigers") into the show, and even dreamed its way into Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" at one point, but the ebb and flow of the entire set took precedence over individual compositions. And when the Collective finished its main set with a hopping, whooping, clapping drum circle — what was left of the surprisingly large crowd did manage to shout the group back for an encore — it was like emerging from the forest after a surreal and thrilling hike.
Album review: Animal Collective, “Feels”
By Catherine P. Lewis, Oct. 26, 2005
While last year's outstanding acoustic "Sung Tongs" was released under the Animal Collective name, it was primarily the work of guitarist/vocalist Avey Tare and percussionist Panda Bear. "Feels" marks the return of guitarist Deakin and electronics wizard Geologist, and the album's thicker sound makes the impact of full participation instantly apparent. The ringing tapestry of guitars and piano on "Flesh Canoe" and the shimmering electronics of "Loch Raven" give the album a wholeness absent from earlier efforts: Even the quieter tracks on "Feels" barely contain a empty moment.
Like the group's recent live shows, the album melds its songs into one continuous idea, capturing first the full-blown euphoria of a bacchanal and later, its groggy, hung-over aftermath. "Feels" begins raucously, with the jubilant "Did You See the Words" and the chanted "Grass," which is anchored by a heartbeat percussion. And while that feral, driving beat permeates "Feels," the Collective is markedly less savage here than previously. The sprawling eight-minute "Banshee Beat" begins with a whisper but doesn't grow much beyond Avey Tare's murmured narrative.
That balance between boisterous, brash melodies and delicate, dreamy soundscapes is the album's most defining characteristic. Rather than creating a Jekyll-and-Hyde struggle, the disparate sounds manifest themselves as part of the Collective's natural ebb and flow, making "Feels" a cohesive album that delivers as much of an emotional journey as any of its individual, isolated tracks.
Live review: Animal Collective at Black Cat
By Catherine P. Lewis, March 23, 2006
Traditionally, Animal Collective performances have consisted of one long piece that drifted in and out of coherent songs by means of improvised transitions. On Tuesday night at a sold-out Black Cat, however, the Brooklyn quartet actually paused for applause between songs, making their nearly two-hour concert seem less spontaneous.
Despite the more organized presentation, the group's sound has changed very little since its last area show, still centering on thumping percussion, repetitive guitars and electronics, and vocals that jump instantly from a melody to a yelp. Even segregated into distinct pieces, the Collective's songs maintained their organic feel, as when the group — and much of the crowd — bounced along to a jubilant, repeated "Whoo!" at the end of "The Purple Bottle."
The group may have seemed more aware of the audience, but it still dove into some longer, morphing pieces reminiscent of their earlier, less conventional recordings. One song began with guitarist Avey Tare singing in a delicate gargle over a faint, pulsing drone and slowly accelerated into a hippie improv jam, with all four members hopping in rhythm and shrieking or pounding exuberantly on their instruments.
With such carefree moments, Animal Collective's performance remained free-spirited and inventive even beneath its newfound structure.
Album review: Animal Collective, “Strawberry Jam”
By David Malitz, Sept. 25, 2007
Animal Collective's "Strawberry Jam" is home to all sorts of crazy sounds. Synthesizers, percussion, voices, guitars and otherworldly beeps, blasts and gurgles collide in glorious chaos. Listen to it while driving and you'll constantly be turning down the volume to make sure those weird noises you hear are coming from the speakers and not from your car.
And this is the band's pop album. "Peacebone," with its scattershot synths, random crashes, chorus of barkers — and is that a steel drum in there? — manages to work as a pop song because of its whimsical singsongy vocals. Avey Tare (real name David Portner) enthusiastically jumps around within his impressive range, always giving the listener something to grab on to, even while those sounds are whizzing back and forth.
That erratic theme repeats itself throughout "Strawberry Jam." Despite the madness going on in the background, Tare and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) sing these bizarre ditties as if they were nursery rhymes. Over time the music — pieced together with fellow Baltimore County band members Geologist (Brian Weitz) and Deakin (Josh Dibb) — reveals itself to be very consciously and expertly constructed. The campfire-singalong vibe that was present on much of the group's earlier work (this is anywhere from their sixth to eighth album, depending whom you ask) is still there; they've just figured out a way to get extension cords and power strips next to the fire.
It makes for an exciting, addictive but sometimes exhausting listen. After the mid-album peaks with "For Reverend Green" and "Fireworks," things cool off a bit, but heat up in full for the closing track, "Derek." It can best be described as Brian Wilson meets a robotic marching band in a swamp. Like much of Animal Collective's output, it may not look good on paper, but it sounds heavenly on record.
Live review: Animal Collective at 9:30 Club
By Patrick Foster, Oct. 2, 2007
Skeletons wearing ballet outfits decorated the stage, bearded crowd members swayed to spacey, dreamlike pulses. It wasn't Grateful Dead night, but Animal Collective's show at the sold-out 9:30 club Friday did aim to transport the crowd via light, sound and hallucinatory interpretations of its best-known songs. And on that score — and several others — it hit the bull's-eye.
Performing as a trio, the Collective sounded more seasoned than during past D.C. gigs, pausing between songs and directly addressing the audience. A propulsive, whirling wave of electronics, samples and beats was still their main concern, though, and they used it to distend or truncate songs, seemingly on a whim.
But versions of "Fireworks" and "Who Could Win a Rabbit" were following a pattern. The constant gyrations of sampler twiddlers Panda Bear (a.k.a. Noah Lennox) and Geologist (Brian Weitz) and main vocalist Avey Tare (David Portner) gave away as much. The trick was that the pattern — an intoxicating steam train of freaky folk, junky AM one-hit wonders, New Zealand legends Tall Dwarfs and (most importantly) the Beach Boys — was insistent and irresistible.
And even if songs like "Derek" are essentially twisted pop radio-hits, watching them rendered by three scruffy dudes boogieing in front of a bank of strobe lights gave them a rough-hewn charm that made the hipsters nod sagely. Ultimately, the Collective's stellar set worked because it delightfully rewrote an old adage: it wasn't the singer or the song, but the sensation.
Interview: Panda Bear
By David Malitz, Jan. 15, 2008
Album review: Animal Collective, “Merriweather Post Pavilion”
By Chris Richards, Jan. 13, 2009
What happens when a band moves toward the mainstream only to find the mainstream no longer exists?
If that band is Animal Collective circa right now, it celebrates. The most jubilant album to come from this gleeful, genre-melting troupe arrives when pop music's master narrative (not to mention the industry itself) couldn't be more splintered. Ten years ago, a songbook this beautiful and bizarre might have sparked a cult following. Today, Animal Collective,a band with roots in the Baltimore suburbs, is poised to crack Billboard's charts. What a wonderful world!
The band's eighth album, "Merriweather Post Pavilion" (named after the mega-venue-cum-parking-nightmare in Columbia), feels like a psychedelic celebration of said wonderful world. And thought it might be Animal Collective's most exuberant outing, it's also the band's most coherent, nudging toward accessibility with irrepressible rhythms and honey-thick vocal harmonies.
Both take shape handsomely during the chorus of "My Girls," the group's finest hour. "I don't mean to seem like I care about material things," singers Noah Lennox and Dave Portner bleat, weaving harmonies from the Beatles-Beach Boys axis into a tapestry all their own. Over an anthemic march, synthesizer patterns twinkle and flutter, as if a flock of cherubs decided to ditch their harps for chirping cellphones. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more revelatory five minutes of music this year.
As for "Daily Routine," finding a trippier song about strolling the kiddies to the park would prove equally tricky. "Make sure my kid's got a jacket / Keys and coat and shoes and hat," Lennox bellows over the dreamlike beat. But before long, his checklist dissolves into a formless, Terry Riley-inspired fever dream, recasting his everyday tasks as something oddly magical.
The song is further proof that Animal Collective still has no problem ditching a good hook for a romp into the hyper-textural. This entire album is rife with electric sounds that feel slippery and damp. Sampled beats sound like galoshes stomping through puddles, and percussive sizzles evoke maracas filled with syrup-coated seeds. It's a dense, humid listen. At times, you can almost imagine beads of dew seeping from the pinholes of your ear buds.
Such hallucinogenic effects seem fully intentional. (Even the album's cover art is an optical illusion: a drawing of vines that appear to sway in a nonexistent breeze.) Lyrically, the band toggles between the surreal and mundane, but the hook of "Brother Sport" feels like a little bit of both.
"Open up your throat," Lennox commands over the song's carnivalesque techno-clatter. Is it an invocation to sing along or an invitation to imbibe? Either way, it's a joy to see these seasoned explorers reveling in the sonic Shangri-La they've discovered. Cheers.
By David Malitz, May 8, 2009
Live review: Animal Collective at Ottobar
By David Malitz, May 12, 2009
BALTIMORE -- A cappella will never be hip. But if any group could make it happen, it would be Animal Collective.The white-hot indie trio, whose album "Merriweather Post Pavilion" is a lock to finish near the top of countless year-end best-of lists, incorporates all sorts of blippy, bleepy, droney and woozy sounds into its psychedelic-electronic concoctions.
But it's the vocal gymnastics of Avey Tare (Dave Portner) and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) — chants, chirps, coos and even some actual words -- that serve as the centerpieces to their songs. At the band's U.S. tour opener Sunday night at the tiny, sold-out Ottobar (the band also played a sold-out show at the 9:30 club last night), those voices were at their mesmerizing best. When the pair sang in tandem, the effect was as hypnotic as the optical-illusion backdrop that hung behind them.
For all of the musical madness that goes on in Animal Collective's extended jams — much of it masterminded by the band's non-singing member, knob-twiddling, miner-flashlight-wearing Geologist (Brian Weitz) — Avey Tare and Panda Bear sing these songs as if they were nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes that would make any infant break into a hysterical fit of crying, but nursery rhymes nonetheless. "Who Could Win a Rabbit" was a gleeful campfire celebration, voices excitedly ascending and descending with every syllable. The effect was more soothing on the irresistible set-closer, "My Girls," which was the aural equivalent of call-and-response with fun-house mirrors.
As the band stretched 13 songs over nearly two hours at this hometown show, a new micro-genre seemed to emerge: vocal jam band.
The stage was filled with samplers, keyboards, a couple of guitars, a handful of drums and more wires than you'd find at Radio Shack, but all of the noises they generated proved to be mere background sounds for Avey Tare and Panda Bear's vocals. At times, they ambled on for minutes, seemingly entranced by their own siren songs, of which the only negative consequences were some hippie-ish twirling by underage kids. When the music stopped and Panda Bear sang unaccompanied at the end of "Daily Routine," it was among the evening's most memorable moments.
What the pair sang about wasn't nearly as important as how they sang it. Only a handful of lyrics were decipherable and, frankly, that's probably for the best. For most bands, the standard singalong is a fist-pumping, declarative chorus. Not so with Animal Collective. It's more like the intro to "Fireworks," which found many in the audience joining Avey Tare in his high-pitched "doo doo-doo doo-doo!" shrieks.
Some gooey sentiments can cause eye rolls when read on paper, such as: "I don't need to seem like I care about material things like a social status / I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls." But when Panda Bear repeatedly chanted those lines as if they were a mantra — with a two-hand grip on the microphone, eyes clenched shut — only the most stubborn of souls could resist.
Album review: Animal Collective, “Fall Be Kind”
By David Malitz, Dec. 8, 2009
Animal Collective is on such a prolonged and spectacular hot streak that it has managed to turn a type of release that's almost always a throwaway — the stopgap EP — into something essential. "Fall Be Kind" comes nearly a year after likely critical consensus album of the year "Merriweather Post Pavilion," an attempt to tide over the band's expanding and increasingly obsessive fan base. A collection of leftovers and half-baked ideas would have done the trick. But this five-song outing is a reminder that not only does the Baltimore-bred trio do melty, mind-bending psychedelic-pop better than any of its peers, it does that better than pretty much anyonedoes anything these days.
The centerpiece of the EP is "What Would I Want? Sky," notable for being the first song to feature an officially licensed Grateful Dead sample and furthering the notion that Animal Collective is less indie rock and more jam band. After a couple of minutes of hypnotic chanting and clanging, a bouncy beat breaks through the mist and transforms the song from a meditation to a celebration. Phil Lesh coos in the background, AC singers Avey Tare and Panda Bear wrap their elastic vocals around the rhythm, and chimes, bleeps and layers of harmonies shoot in from all sides. There's a lot going on, but the insistent singsongy repetition of the title makes it one the band's best pop songs to date.
"Bleeding" and "On a Highway" hardly use any percussion, focusing solely on the band's impressive vocal gymnastics, but "I Think I Can" once again brings all of the elements together — it's a romp as gleeful as it is bizarre, and easy to love since it's sung like a lullaby from some parallel universe.
Live review: Panda Bear at Ottobar
By David Malitz, Sept. 14, 2010
Home field advantage can work in music as well as sports. Noah Lennox — a.k.a. Panda Bear, the sweet-voiced star of the 2009 indie breakout band Animal Collective — spent part of the summer previewing songs from his upcoming album "Tomboy" and experienced something unheard of lately in the Animal Collective universe: lukewarm reviews. The buzz about his sets — frequently played at large, outdoor festivals — often contained the dreaded "b" word — boring. But on Sunday night in a sold-out homecoming show at Baltimore's tiny Ottobar, it was a different "b" word that best described the show: blissful.
With a rapt hometown audience focused on his every move — ometimes strumming a guitar, more often simply turning a knob on a sampler — Lennox showcased music from "Tomboy" that offered a familiar yet distinctive take on the always-evolving Animal Collective aesthetic. His songs are mostly electronic compositions built on gorgeous sounds that are looped, warped, twisted and turned inside out only to emerge as even more beautiful.
Compared with the material from his spectacular 2007 album "Person Pitch," the new material is much more straightforward and beat-driven. Instead of the multilayered collages that worked themselves into a head-spinning frenzy, "Tomboy" and "Slow Motion" followed a straighter line, focused on a single, slow rhythm with limited embellishments. This helped keep much of the focus on Lennox's voice, which is never a bad idea. For all the otherworldly sounds Animal Collective can conjure, Lennox's voice remains the most alluring weapon in their arsenal.
His warm, commanding chant may drift into space during open-air performances, but it enveloped Ottobar. As video artist Danny Perez (collaborator on Animal Collective's "Oddsac" film) projected appropriately psychedelic visuals on a screen behind Lennox, the effect was something like the complete opposite of the brainwashing scene in "A Clockwork Orange."
Album review: Avey Tare, “Down There”
By David Malitz, Oct. 26, 2010
It would be a stretch to call Animal Collective's prismatic tapestries formulaic, but patterns — really trippy ones — emerge. Murky and mirthful sounds are poured into the band's psychedelic cauldron, bubbling up and eventually bursting forth with a buoyant vibrancy, chirpy pop songs disguised as experimental sound collages. The debut solo album by Animal Collective core member Avey Tare (a.k.a. Dave Portner) fits neatly into the band's discography but also distinguishes itself from the rest of the Baltimore-bred group's work, particularly last year's mainstream breakthrough, "Merriweather Post Pavilion."
The same core ingredients are present on "Down There" but instead of emerging geyserlike, they ooze and drip out, creating a sound that's filled with foreboding but stops just short of being sinister. It's not nearly as fun but almost as fulfilling. Singsongy chants and angelic backing vocals remain Tare's calling card, but they are more garbled and muffled than ever. And when you can make out what he's saying, it's even bleaker. "I must have wrapped you up and left you hanging upside down / But I was too busy getting lost in / The big sound," he wails on "Laughing Hieroglyphic," one of many songs that could be about his recent divorce.
Fleeting moments of giddiness poke through the swampy sounds, but even these are restrained. Although a straightforward beat threatens to break out, a stilted, herky-jerky rhythm keeps the pace in "Head's Hammock." There's no heart-racing crescendo in "3 Umbrellas," the brightest and bounciest track here, just a gentle, glowing gallop. It's an album for patient listeners, who will unearth plenty of subtle sonic pleasures as they poke around in these dark corners.
Album review: Panda Bear, “Tomboy”
By Chris Richards, April 11, 2011
Since the dawn of the MP3 era, our collective notions about what makes pop music pop music have been scrambled, splintered, scattered and all of the other things that they do to hash browns at a Waffle House.
Lately, pop music just feels inside out. Our biggest superstars are hatching from alien pods, masquerading as avant-weirdos, while our genuine avant-weirdos are making foreign sounds feel more familiar.
Baltimore native Noah Lennox has had plenty to do with the latter. He performs under the name Panda Bear in the experimental indie-pop group Animal Collective. His 2007 solo disc “Person Pitch” sounded like a choir of Brian Wilson clones re-imagining the 21st-century drum circle — colorful and disorienting and often quite beautiful.
His lush, rolling vocals felt even more urgent on Animal Collective’s 2009 home-run “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” an album that influenced scores of bands to venture out into similar sonic hazes.
Now, with Lennox surrounded by imitators, the trancelike hymns that fill his new Panda Bear album “Tomboy” don’t sound as arresting as they once did. They feel slippery. Moments into the album, it’s hard to tell whether Lennox is wailing “Know you can count on me” or “No, you can’t count on me.” And are those actual field recordings of crashing waves on “Surfer’s Hymn” or just washes of white noise made to sound like crashing waves?
If you spend your time with “Tomboy” playing games of this or that, you might be missing the point. These are cyclical, hypnotic songs that are meant to wash over you. And headphones are a must. Tucked beneath the album’s big, washy guitars and choirboy keening are tiny vocal samples and vibrant little patches of sound. It can feel like Public Enemy’s nightmarish hyper-sampling recast in a daydream.
And while “Tomboy” won’t knock the wind out of you like “Fear of a Black Planet,” it is a pleasant little album to laze around in. And it comes with a smart lesson: As our definition of pop music expands, so does our comfort zone.