Sorting through such an accomplished body of work is hard. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just say that Animal Collective are top tier indie, touching various stages of folk, noise, pop, and neo-psychedelia throughout their catalog. I could easily make a list of 30 or even 40 songs that encapsulate what an elite band they are, but with Painting With releasing in just about a week’s time, let us go over Durbanboys’ 20 favorite Animal Collective Songs. Keep in mind my secondary goal if giving you all seizures from the flashing lights in these music videos. Just kidding, that’s a seizure warning if I ever saw one.
20. Lion In A Coma (Merriweather Post Pavilion)
From a technical standpoint, it’s hard to tell whether this is in 3/4, 3/8, 9/8, whatever. The tempo is driving and quick, and in spite of the complex signatures, is inevitably catchy. The intro features a jaw harp and progresses to the concluding repetition of Avey Tare’s “lion in a coma, lion in a coma” chants to take the song home. Try saying that 5 times fast. Just kidding, it’s pretty easy to do and as fun as the MPP is to look at.
19. Honeycomb (Honeycomb/Gotham)
“Honeycomb” was the accompanying single leading up to an incredibly hyped follow up to their most successful album from a popularity perspective. Like most songs on what would be Centipede Hz, “Honeycomb” contains a bloated production hodgepodge of loud percussion and blaring synths, complete with nursury rhyme inspired lyrical delivery. The song sounds faintly like followup single “Honeycomb”, particularly in the chorus, and set the standard for the upcoming album in mid-2012.
18. Chores (Strawberry Jam)
“Chores” totally doubles as a campfire song (see number 14 on this list) in real life. Just picture yourself sitting on the beach with friends and a roaring fire. It’s a simple little ditty, through the frantic pacing presents a comical first world dilemma. The narrator wants to get all of his chores done, have a good old fashioned smoke session, and go out for a walk. The stoners dream has become reality here.
17. Alvin Row (Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished)
Animal Collective were no strangers to epic songs of great length in their early days. Perhaps the most prominent of all of these unfolds on Panda Bear and Avey Tare’s debut Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished. With “Alvin Row” the duo channel the light piano interludes that dominate their early outputs. It’s essentially a package of the building blocks of an Animal Collective song. We find harsh noise, classical inspired piano, free jazz drumming, Avey’s whispering vocals, and bursts of crescendoing power. Also of note, the guys wrote this song as teenagers!
16. My Girls (Merriweather Post Pavilion)
Muddied traces of blowing wind into sparkly synth loops open up “My Girls”. Panda Bear’s homage to his beloved family is put on the pedestal, all the while setting the stage for his dominating vocal leads that flooded Merriweather Post Pavilion as a whole. The song is dreamy and light-hearted, with textbook vocal harmonies, displaying the band’s affinity for all that is Brian Wilson. Additionally, “My Girls” is possibly Animal Collective’s most accessible and familiar song.
15. Graze (Fall Be Kind)
On Fall Be Kind, Animal Collective turn to more straightforward driving pop melodies showcasing their ability as potential mainstream suitors. Evolving in these tendencies in their songwriting, the group still maintain progressive songwriting, directing an opener split into two parts. “Graze” begins with gentle piano and big synths, and drives into an upbeat medieval number dominated by a pan flute sample and Avey and Panda’s dueling harmonies.
14. Doggy (Campfire Songs)
Back to allusions of summer camp and good times, “Doggy” falls on Campfire Songs with the blankety vibes that warrant the album title. The song wreaks of warm strumming guitar and lush oohs and aahs emanating on top of Avey’s stripped down performance. When typical Animal Collective songs can be wrought with so many layers, it’s nice every once in awhile to reflect on calmer inhibitions, and the fuzzy lo-fi sound adds plenty to this mood.
13. Bluish (Merriweather Post Pavilion)
From the synths and pianos to the words emitting from the narrator, “Bluish” serenades in poetic terse, and paints a picture so clear of the wonders of being in love. As watery as the production makes it out to be, the bareness and simultaneous honesty make for relatable markings of a musical production tugging on our collective heartstrings. “Bluish” is full of the happy emotions that make even the most minute observations of relationships seem beautiful.
12. Applesauce (Centipede Hz)
If anything were to catch someone’s eye on the apparently sub-par Centipede Hz, take second single “Applesauce” to heart. In an album of riveting experimental pop numbers, this song in particular harnesses simple piano arpeggios in both the verses and chorus, and uses numerous metaphors of youthful exuberance and the harrows of growing old all with sweet lyricism and fruitful allegory.
11. Bees (Feels)
Stereotypical depictions of Animal Collective’s music liken the instrumentation and distorted vocals to drugged out acid trips. If any song is encapsulated in this euphoria of a psychedelic experience, look no further than “Bees”. As Feels enters side two of its indie rock meets freak folk comedown, odd time signatures and abrasive experimentation mellow into this track’s layout, with an autoharp playing as the lead instrument, proving once again that Animal Collective can utilize even the most uncanny instruments and turn a song into gold.
10. Also Frightened (Merriweather Post Pavilion)
Merriweather Post Pavilion unfolds as one cohesive listen in theory, and as “My Girls” transitions into “Also Frightened”, the eerie, dripping backdrop of sounds continues into loud bass and big vocal performances. Animal Collective go full Beach Boys, yet also piece together the markings of their wavy synths to create what is perhaps the fullest sounding chorus in their entire discography. Four part harmonies blend in unison as the group screams an underlying uncertainty of death and afterlife in their words.
9. Leaf House (Sung Tongs)
Happy-go-lucky folk songs of days past take on a larger tribal feeling on Sung Tongs opener, “Leaf House”. Being a direct homage to author Mark Danielewski’s novel “House of Leaves”, the track is not absent of claustrophobic feelings of wonder, yet still maintains a playful innocence, closing with a comical shout out to the cat lover in all of us. Distorted back and forth of “meow” and “kitties” spewing from the songwriter’s mouths isn’t too out of the ordinary for Animal Collective, but hilarious nonetheless.
8. Cuckoo Cuckoo (Strawberry Jam)
Some of the best moments in Animal Collective’s music revolve around Avey Tare’s unstable mixture of quiet to loud transitions. A soft, lingering piano sample cascades among frantic drumming and chaotic screams, making for a confused satisfaction amidst all of the elements that make up “Cuckoo Cuckoo”. In the background exists a soft humming too hearkening back to “Did You See The Words” off of Feels. All-in-all, “Cuckoo Cuckoo” is just further testament to the beautiful mess that is Strawberry Jam.
7. Brother Sport (Merriweather Post Pavilion)
Repeating patterns in wordplay and childish synths unfold on “Brother Sport”, the grand finale on Merriweather Post Pavilion. Like much of the record, Panda Bear is thrust into the spotlight on this track, chanting his familiar nasally afro-beat rhythm sections before the song swirls into a budding flower of swirling psychedelic bliss. Where the track shines is the pure excited fervor that drives the three stages of building; it’s almost like a trifecta of three existing bodies being combined into one. Riveting stuff to say the least.
6. Fireworks (Strawberry Jam)
“Fireworks” fittingly leaked back in the day of the 4th of July, and while the song bursts forth with an overarching joyful mood, the subject matter, while optimistic, is rather gloomy. All the markings of celebration, the ragtime piano, the hums and woos of the background vocals, they all mask a synthetic mark of happiness. The narrator is infatuated with the beauty of other people and places in life, yet is wrought with a depression marked by self-loathing thoughts and weariness. However, outlook exists in strong manor, and existential views of things bigger than self reign true in spite of any frame of mind that tends to consume the human mind.
5. Banshee Beat (Feels)
Taking “Banshee Beat” at face value, the song holds the same chord for the first couple minutes of the song, no real progression, nothing at large that should be captivating. The twinkly guitar and limited percussion yield beautiful results paired with Avey’s whispering vocals, but the building in the song, all of the tension that grows isn’t truly resolved over the eight minute run time. I like it for that though; this song could last for half an hour, and I’d probably come to the same conclusion. I find that true of Feels’ second half entirely. The feelings enacted in the lush guitar picking evoke remnants of both good and bad, but the point is this, it is better to feel both sides of the coin than to not be able to feel at all.
4. Winters Love (Sung Tongs)
“Winters Love” (yes, no apostrophe needed) is a gorgeous ditty perfectly capable of doubling as both ‘cabin in the woods’ tier poetry, and ‘first dance at a wedding’ celebration. Avey Tare and Panda Bear again mesh with heavenly harmonization over light percussion before the songs dives face first into a concise wave of acoustic guitar and moaning vocals. “Winters Love” is my number one coziest Animal Collective song if their were such a ranking for that. Gather round the fireplace and wish for that snow to keep-a-coming!
3. The Purple Bottle (Feels)
My first exposure to “The Purple Bottle” left me wondering of the possible connotations to cough syrup and the euphoric high that results from consumption of one “purple drank”, but the lyrical nature of the song proves this notion to be false. Avey Tare’s hyperactive nature and grasp of all things righteous makes for a better love song than any ode to drug induced feelings. The affinity for his lover’s subtle and loud qualities is the truest expression of infatuation he has ever captured in a song. It is a celebration of a counterpart to affirm the similarities in their personality, but also the thankfulness that meshing differences between them can coexist.
2. What Would I Want? Sky (Fall Be Kind)
The bulk of Fall Be Kind is a more accessible brand of Animal Collective’s neo-psychedelia. Existing is a middle ground between Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion, “What Would I Want? Sky” is an anthem of barraging questions in the verse, all followed up by the meshing chants of the song’s title. The track figuratively takes flight, providing a catchy number, but also brilliant utilization of bouncing piano and the only authorized use of a Grateful Dead sample.
1. For Reverend Green (Strawberry Jam)
Amidst the elite 7/8 time signature and distorted guitar in the background tracking, “For Reverend Green” is a changing of the guard in Animal Collective’s songwriting process. The lyrics are carefully laid out in catchy verse, but also progress into existential themes of mortality, personifying both childhood innocence and the harsher realities of the world from mature eyes. Some of the greatest displays of emotion are found when Avey Tare juggles moaning delivery with passionate screams. As he repeats “for reverend green” over and over again to close the song, it is apparent to me that the song is indeed a crowning achievement of the band’s gigantic body of work. Avey’s voice is so powerful, and having seeing them live twice, I am continually impressed by how he can continue to put such strain on his performance, yet kill it on a daily basis. Kudos, Animal Collective!