After the release of Eucalyptus by Avey Tare (aka. David Portner), a understatedly excellent album that came out to very little fanfare outside of the dedicated fanbase of his band Animal Collective, I dove back into AnCo’s discography and once again found a sense of wonder and excitement around many of their releases.
I also began to muse over the plethora of amazing tracks, EPs and albums that the band have released since their start in music back in the mid-to-late 90s, and how deep and rewarding the finds are outside of their most accessible and popular releases, a category that Eucalyptus slots right into.
Of course the Baltimore band has the universally acclaimed mega-album Merriweather Post Pavilion – an album that I still deem to this day as being a near-perfect pop album – and the occasional big-hitters from 2005’s Feels and 2007’s Strawberry Jam, but in general, Animal Collective are a group that hold a discography littered with gems unfound by the masses. So, take a wander with me through the band’s discography (including solo efforts and other side projects) and hopefully find a newfound appreciation for their output.
Panda Bear – On The Farm
The first release from any Animal Collective member – apart from ‘Paddington Band’, an EP by Automine, the high-school band of Portner, Josh Dibb (Deakin) and Brian Weitz (Geologist) – Panda Bear is a nice little precursor to the output that Noah Lennox would become synonymous with on his solo outings as Panda Bear.
While not an overly impressive first try, ‘On The Farm’ is one of the tracks that certainly stuck. A sweet piece of bedroom pop, Lennox plays with the idea of manoeuvring electronic sounds around a looping acoustic foundation, something that he would go back to and perfect on his 2007 magnum opus Person Pitch.
Animal Collective – Alvin Row
Retroactively named as the debut album for Animal Collective, 2000’s Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished saw Avey Tare and Panda Bear work together to create a masterful piece that paved the way for the psychedelic-flavoured brand of folk and electronic music that the group would become synonymous with over the coming years.
Originally only going to credit Avey Tare on the front of the box, Lennox’s contributions on percussion were so significant to the album’s fortunes that it would go credited to ‘Avey Tare and Panda Bear’ instead. Nowhere is this blend better showcased than the album’s closer, ‘Alvin Row’.
Over its 12-minute playtime, ‘Alvin Row’ steadily chugs away with a strokes of avant-jazz piano before the percussion speeds up into a jogging tempo and then soars into the air for a grand finale that feels like it lasts forever and no time at all. It’s one of the most delightful album closers that the band has ever executed, and they perfected it first time.
Animal Collective – People
Somewhat surprisingly, Animal Collective have made it a habit of theirs to produce some of their best work in companion EPs that have followed their studio album partners. While these companion EPs could go down as merely afterthoughts and thrown out pieces that weren’t good enough for the studio albums, they more often than not stand on their own as great collections of work that take the ideas of their sister releases and twist them in a way that makes them both familiar and significantly different.
The People EP is one of these, as it followed on from 2005’s Feels LP: an album that’s awash with strange guitar tunings and an ethereal wood pixie aura. Tikwid in particular features a strangely eerie guitar chord sequence and voice manipulation that sounds like sounds as frantic as a fever dream at times. The fact that nuggets like these don’t make the final album cut is testament to how fantastic Animal Collective can be.
Avey Tare & Kría Brekkan – Sasong
Let’s talk about the story Pullhair Rubeye. Recorded by two beloved musicians in Avey Tare and then-partner Kría Brekkan, of the Icelandic band múm, penned in Paris and then finally coming to fruition in the early months of 2006 in New York before being mixed down on a two-track, Pullhair Rubeye had practically checked every mark on the inclusion list to becoming a folk cult hit.
And then, the pair decided that they wanted to completely reverse the final audio. Like, just reverse it. Speed it up here and there, but, reverse all of it without adapting it in any other manner. If you’ve ever reversed the audio for a random album, it generally turns out as a jumbling of noise rather than anything coherent, and the officially released Pullhair Rubeye is quite baffling. There are certain fascinatingly eerie moments thanks to Brekkan’s soft vocals, but overall it’s a disappointment.
Ignoring the final official release of Pullhair Rubeye and listen to it in the state it was in before the audio was manipulated with: it fully lived up to the standard expected before release.
Pullhair Rubeye is filled with cosy, intimate cuts that sound as breezy as a warm Spring afternoon – the complete opposite to officially released version and superior in every sense. Sasong is a standout from the album: backed by a whistle, Avey Tare sounds more at home floating in the wind than he does on Earth.
Deakin – Country Report
Josh Dibb – otherwise known as Deakin – may be the most elusive member of the bunch, but whenever he takes centre stage the results always seem to be amazing. Arguably, Deakin may be the best straight-up pop song writer of the quartet.
‘Country Report’ is taken off of the Keep + Animal Collective EP, which saw the band give out the record as a bundle when purchasing Keep shoes. It’s also the first solo Deakin track ever, and a good precedent to the sublime Sleep Cycle album that would eventually release in 2016. Be sure to check out Sleep Cycle, which was criminally overlooked and is a beautiful short release.
Panda Bear – The Preakness
Also first found on the Keep + Animal Collective EP, ‘The Preakness’ has become somewhat of a Panda Bear enthusiast favourite despite never actually appearing on the initial tracklisting of a studio album. It’s also evident that Lennox has a fondness for the track, as it popped up on the deluxe version of 2011’s Tomboy and the Crosswords EP, which released in close proximity to his 2015 full length Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper.
‘The Preakness’ recently underwent a makeover, with the newest version taking on a more upbeat, beating electronic pulse in conjunction with the style he found on PGMTGR, but it was the Keep version that has burrowed its way into my heart the most. Taking on an airier approach, ‘The Preakness’ is classic Panda Bear, making the most of Lennox’s choirboy vocals and looping samplers. Bliss.
Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks – Catchy (Was Contagious)
In collaboration with former Dirty Projectors member Angel Deradoorian and Ponytail’s former drummer Jeremy Hyman, Portner released the Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks record in 2014, a twisted part garage album centred around producing distorted pop music that would slot nicely into the soundtrack of a hellish alternate universe circus.
Halfway through Slasher Flicks is ‘Catchy (Was Contagious)’, an abnormal almost-Afro-pop track that warps and folds itself several times over to create a concoction of deliciously dark pop.