Musical Musings: Animal Collective

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Animal Collective and Sir Richard Bishop at Wexner Center Performance Space

Only made it out to one show this week, but me oh my was it a good one. Shortly after Sir Richard Bishop wrung nearly every sound imaginable from his acoustic guitar (seriously, dude went from delicate fingerpicking to full-on James Hetfield strums), the amorphous group of talented freaks known as Animal Collective arrived on stage to cast its spell.

This time the band appeared as a trio, with central figures Avey Tare and Panda Bear joined by knob-twiddler Geologist. Deakin was nowhere to be found, but his friends made plenty of noise anyway. The crew manned a setup heavy on machinery and light on traditional rock show touchpoints—no guitars, a few auxiliary drums, a keyboard here and there—and set forth on a set much more like a hippie rave than a rock show.

Geologist, keeping his custom of wearing a light strapped to his forehead, triggered samples and swayed rapturously to a set of almost entirely new music, save for a revised rendition of "Who Could Win a Rabbit." Panda Bear was more stoic as he pressed keys and occasionally added percussive flourishes on the spare drum setup. He traded vocals with Avey Tare, who stood at the center wholly enclosed by machines. Avey would often shift from the keyboard at his back to the drums at his side to the knobs on the table in front of him, and sometimes he would merely stand there making animalistic sounds into the mic. In all this, he rarely broke from his hunched-over groove. Most of the crowd followed suit. (To help visualize, check this pic nabbed from the band's MySpace comments.)

The electronic leanings were a stark contrast to the rainforest rock band feel of 2005's Feels. In fact, the band almost completely ignored Feels, choosing to feature 2004's universally praised Sung Tongs with their few back catalog selections ("Leaf House" and "We Tigers" among them). But the new material, presumably slated for a new LP this fall, wasn't exactly a return to Sung Tongs' computerized campfire songs either. This music is stiff and elastic at once, building with cold precision while gradually showing warm flashes of personality. Chanting, singing and screaming all still abound, but the framework seems less like a landscape now than a cityscape. The beautiful new twist in Animal Collective's narrative is both a natural extension of what they've done before and a surprising twist, the likes of which characterizes any good story. If the new album can translate the feel of this show, it will be one of the more unique and wonderful releases of the year. It sounds like hallucination music for tribal robots, but it's one serious trip for humans, too.