The last few years have seen Brooklyn's wayward anomaly Animal Collective dropped into the musical petri dish multiple times, doused with whatever was lying around beneath the kitchen sink and mutating at an accelerated pace. They have migrated from lysergically laced experimental arrangements toward more accessible folk and pop influences, emphasized in the abundant employ of processed vocals and harmonies. Their latest CD, Sung Tongs, is a full, rich work of interwoven voice and acoustic guitar strewn with smatterings of Brazilian rhythms and broken hip-hop beats, as well as a boundless sense of play evidenced by the studio-as-laboratory engineering.
Animal Collective's folk leanings shouldn't be misunderstood as being any sort of vapid granola trend, as all the signposts pointing to their current, digitally fractured sound have been present and alive on the group's previous recordings. As member Brian Weitz (or "Geologist," as he's known in the band) says, "That's just what we were exploring for a period of time, and I'm sure we'll come back to it again, but hopefully differently. We've always loved acoustic music, but we don't have any interest in doing the folk-revival thing. I don't understand why people put us in that group of musicians. Maybe it's the presence of acoustic guitars, or because we like Vashti Bunyan and worked with her, but I don't think the song structures are traditional in any way on records like Campfire Songs or Sung Tongs. Right now our music is mostly electric."
When asked if there is a shamanistic element to their music (which one could easily assume, given the group's, um, animal tendencies, not to mention the bunny and turtle suits), he explains, "We're very connected to nature on a personal and unconscious level. We have been ever since we were kids. It's definitely a common bond we share. I think this intuitive love of nature makes us drawn to shamanism. We're conscious of it, but it's because we believe that it's the right way for us to express ourselves. It's not conscious in a gimmicky way."
In fact, there is little at all obvious, or worse, gimmicky, about the music. It teeters gingerly between darling postures composed of awkward pastoral romanticism on the one hand, and on the other risks embracing psychedelic oddness for its own sake. While their latest effort does take a firm step in a more conventional direction, Sung Tongs is more confounding because of the impossibility of eluding attempts at driving a categorical stake through its beating heart. Animal Collective manages not to fall to either side of the equation, choosing instead to give credence to both the conventional and the profound in equal measure.
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