Despite the evident appeal of their deliciously skewed songs, heartbreaking hooks and deep pop sensibilities, Animal Collective is clearly not a simple or stable ‘band’ proposition. Friends and musical partners since 1992, core members Avey Tare and Panda Bear came together in 2000 with the intention of moving pop music in a direction that would place heavy emphasis on sonic experience. Soon after this, they began operating as Animal Collective, an umbrella name now used for a grouping of four people: Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist and Deaken, who play together under different names and in different configurations (anything between 1 to 4 people), and whose releases are prone to continual musical change: from beautifully skewed pop ballads to fiercely ruptured noise-squalls to tribal rhythmic work-outs to simple folk songs, to who knows where; from fully orchestrated group freak-outs to a the intimacy of an acoustic duo.
The Collective’s first offering was a stunning collaboration between Avey Tare and Panda Bear called ‘Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished’, released on their own label (Animal) in August of 2000. A second album, ‘Danse Manatee’ (remastered for this release) was released by Catsup Plate in July 2001, which was accompanied by a month-long US tour with their friends Black Dice. The following year saw the release of a limited edition (300 copies), vinyl-only release on St.Ives (a sub-label of Secretly Canadian) called ‘Hollinndagain’, which was made up of recordings from live shows. 2003 saw their most prolific year to date - as well as FatCat’s repackaging of the first two albums, they released ‘Campfire Songs’ - a collection of songs recorded live on a screened-in porch in rural Maryland on Catsup Plate; ‘Here Comes The Indian’ on Carpark’s imprint label Paw Tracks (which is being run by the band themselves); and 3 tracks from Avey Tare also appeared on a Split 12” shared with fellow New Yorker David Grubbs. May 2004 saw the release of their twisted yet masterly pop album, ‘Sung Tongs’ - their most outwardly ‘accessible’ work to date - which drew widespread critical acclaim, making end of year top 10’s including The New York Times, Mojo, The Wire, Pitchork.
This popular and critical support was advanced with the band’s October 2005 album, ‘Feels’, again receiving widespread acclaim across the board, and seeing the band score some serious cover features across the States. Immediately on top of this album, the band completed their first ever headlining European tour, selling out venues as they visibly moved up a notch or three. In 2007, we released the ‘People’ EP and, with their deal with FatCat ended, Animal Collective signed to Domino.
In 2009 the band released ‘Merriweather Post Pavillion’, their ninth studio album, which has topped many end-of-year lists in influential music publications and broadsheets. In December ‘09 they also released the ‘Fall Be Kind’ EP on Domino.
In whatever formation, Animal Collective are a genuinely thrilling live unit, passionately committed and unafraid to put themselves on the line. Their refusal to accept obvious formulas and creative desire to continually shift and rapidly move forwards has meant them testing audience expectations and always appearing to be one step ahead of themselves.
But, crucially, it is Animal Collective’s natural affinity with pop music that makes up the crux of their sound. Whilst they may recall a wide array of past and present influences, it’s without ever aping them or sounding retro. And most of all, in whatever guise they assume, Animal Collective always manage to sound like noone but themselves – stunningly unique and resonating with a deeply commited self-belief.
Like Splinter label-mate Dorine Muraille, Animal Collective are a perfect addition to FatCat’s Splinter Series - their grasp of pop hooks and dynamics being counterbalanced by a love of noise / friction and musical anarchy; their songs wavering on the tightrope between deeply affecting beauty and unrestrained chaos.