Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Animal Collective: Sung Tongs (2004)
How many Animal Collective albums should one listen to before one is satisfied that Animal Collective is very simply not their "thing"? That's an open question to any and all fans reading this. I don't want any anti-"hipster" sarcasm, either; I genuinely have the feeling that lurking in this music somewhere is something that would connect with me. I came to the band backward, during the mass internet hysteria about Merriweather Post Pavilion, and was seduced instinctively by "My Girls" and especially "Bluish" (best love song of the last five years? maybe) -- and of course the Collective's palette of influences is near and dear to me.
But something's missing, and I have a feeling it's a thing with me. Your friendly context here is that as I write this I'm in the middle of reviewing the new album by (the) Gossip, one of those bands whose primary interest to me seems to extend only to a single beloved LP (Music for Men, a shy DJ's best friend in mid-2009) and a few stray cuts -- their new record suffers from the same issues as Goldfrapp's last one, it's steeped in the very wrong kind of 1980s pastiche and seems a reaction against carefree synth-disco, which to me amounts to a certain betrayal. The smoothness and sterility of it is driving me nuts, and I have to listen to it several more times (because I do that when people are paying me to write about something, not like here where I snap judgments in y'all's face) so I needed a break. And I've had this Sung Tongs lying around a while, I like Panda Bear and Avey Tare's voices, I "get" what the band is about, and I heard this was a pretty abrasive record, which sounded nice right then. Plus we'd just seen Shortbus in which music from this album is prominently featured.
It's too much for me, and as I sit with it again now something about it is just irksome; I seem to remember a publicist at one point calling this pets-running-out-of-the-room music, and though I tend to like bizarre and angular and "irritating" music like Yoko Ono and tUnE-yArDs and shit, I'm with the pets on this one. There's something in the space between sounds here that's getting the wrong sort of rise out of me. I like the vocals on "Get to Know Your Rabbit" or whatever. And I feel sort of dejected because the Collective is really the fruition of a prediction of mine a decade ago that we'd soon see the Beach Boys surpass the Beatles in influence, yet I can't seem to enjoy it, or get the emotional push I do from Smiley Smile. The bent, crazed ambiance and the intricate harshness of the sound is somehow like a roadblock, even though I can sense something beautiful happening nearly all the time for the duration of this record.
Positive message, though: You really don't need to go to college. But... can I make one hipster joke? Just one? Maybe you have to go to college to appreciate this music. I can't seem to. But how can I write off a band with this much to offer? Is there anything wrong with working through the murk and the mess to get to the good stuff, anything wrong with a band that takes some work to listen to? Am I just getting impatient? I don't have the answers to any of this, I'm asking you, the viewer. As for Sung Tongs, two befuddled listens later (don't tell anyone but I skipped around a lot the second time through), it's going in the "I have no clue what I think of this" pile.