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Animal Collective: Best to Worst

Updated: Nov 28, 2018

So one cool thing about Animal Collective is that I can sit down and listen to their ten albums in a row and not get tempted to put something else on. Each one sort of has its own magic. This group has the means to pull off such a wide array of sounds, from the vividly animated psychedelic pop of Merriweather Post Pavilion to the indescribable, dreamlike fairy synthpop in Spirit They’ve Gone, or twisted freak folk in Sung Tongs.

I’d always been a fairly big Animal Collective fan, but being able to do this made me appreciate parts of their discography I may have never touched otherwise.

Here’s to the magic of Avey Tare and Panda Bear (and Geologist and Deakin<3).

1. Feels: 9.5/10

By far Animal Collective’s most consistent, easily translatable and lovable. Still has its own distinct sound. The amount of emotion present in the vocals and lyrical content is indisputable. Has anyone ever listened to Do You See The Words without crying? Idk man, I just feel like it’s not possible.

It’s a nearly flawless song with deep, glossy production and airy synthetic pianos. The emotion in the vocals of this song and the short explosions of energy throughout are by far one of Animal Collective’s most flawless moments, period. Purple Bottle’s tribal drums and ringing synths are nothing short of beautiful; Bees’ glistening, natural and sharp sounding guitars/strings and pianos with spacey background vocals make for an almost psychedelic experience. Banshee Beat’s glimmering, steady buildup of emotion is easily one of the best moments of the album. Loch Raven’s glassy, high-pitched synths, soft vocals and appeal make it feel like it could’ve fit onto Spirit They’ve Gone.

The lyrics on Feels are more personal and intimate than most other Animal Collective projects, getting into specific parts of their relationships/friendships. Some obvious highlights are being totally in love with someone on The Purple Bottle to the emotions that spill out as a result of a breakup on Banshee Beat. Flesh Canoe, despite its lyrics feeling strongly like a love song, is about Avey’s friendship with Noah

Every part of this album, from the instrumentation to the vocal performances to the lyrics, seems to come from an extremely raw, emotional place. Despite it being majority synthetic, it definitely feels natural at the same time, tying in with these lyrical themes, vocals, etc. This is Animal Collective pushed to their fullest.

Not much to be desired here. Except that Daffy Duck could’ve been shorter.

2. Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished: 9.5/10

There is no album in the world like this and trying to put it into words feels awkward and uncomfortable. All of my words feel so shallow and this is so much more important than this shitty blog.

Basically, I was going through some shit over break. Not sure why but when I’m in a shitty mental place and I’m back home I tend to just drive around aimlessly for hours and listen to music. And around that time, this album was finally clicking. It was comforting in a way I can’t describe and gave me this weird feeling of hope within my own despair when no other music was doing that. My picture of this album will most likely always be of these initial moments when I fell in love with it.

This album was inspired by the death of childhood, which we can do nothing about, and wishing we could keep living our old lives and feel supported at all times but knowing that’s impossible.

It was (apparently) written and recorded when Avey Tare moved and felt disconnected and isolated from everyone and hadn’t made any friends there. The entire album has this soft, childlike feel to it while still having a clear chaotic, tortured undertone. It’s pretty hard to make out the lyrics most of the time, but the whole thing is flawlessly written and don’t go to genius rn and read them unless you want to fucking cry.

Spirit They’ve Gone is a brief track that uses high-pitched feedback and ethereal synthetic production and feels like floating through some other universe. Untitled is a track with overwhelmingly abrasive noise that sounds like screaming/wailing, but is somehow mixed in a way that makes it sound absolutely gorgeous. Not only are the first few tracks unlike anything I’ve ever heard, these deep cuts are tremendous. I can’t listen to Penny Dreadfuls or Chocolate Girl without crying; the pianos and drums on Penny Dreadfuls are so memorably emotional and deafening; the fluttering synthetic background is perfectly arranged. Chocolate Girl’s drifting production complimented by the bass and drums is flawless, with guitar breaks that feel so natural and refreshing. Alvin Row starts as this chaotic mess of instruments playing random notes that gradually becomes more and more organized until it eventually fades into a stunning climax.

I don’t think there’s a single other Animal Collective project with quite this amount of emotional value and risks taken. This is otherworldly.

I didn’t get this album at first. At all. In fact, I waited a year after the first time i tried it to listen to it again. But eventually it clicked, and it was so rewarding when it did. I understand if you don’t like this project or want to try it right away. Hell, I might even recommend getting into it last of all of Animal Collective’s other albums.

But fully digest everything this album has to offer. It deserves it.

3. Strawberry Jam: 9/10

Strawberry Jam kind of reminds me of a cross between Feels and Merriweather Post Pavilion. It’s like the ultimate mix of influences for someone who loves nearly every sound the group has approached up to this point (me). You can’t deny the consistency of this album, either.

Peacebone has this glitchy sonic palette that begins by descending chaotically before eventually coming together in a coherent pattern. It’s laced with strange indecipherable sound effects and short vocal samples. Despite so much happening at once, it all comes together so well. Unsolved Mysteries combines fuzzy guitars and synths with this glistening, high-pitched noise, a simply beautiful moment. Chores is this explosion of crashing energy and chaos that strategically fades into mystical, dreary breaks; For Reverend Green is a reverb-drenched guitar cut with polished synths and easily one of the most emotional moments here; “I think it’s alright to feel inhuman, now I think that’s a riot, now I think it’s alright we’ll sing together, now I think that’s a riot” / “a thousand wasted Brooklyners are depressed” yeaaaahhhh damn that’s relatable. Derek’s soft guitars and watery synths feel noticeably more low-key than a lot of the record and build into a climax of echoing drums. Safer is the creepiest song here, its ringing piano and ambient background fading into a sample of an Indian song.

I also probably couldn’t end this paragraph without talking about Fireworks, with its speedy drumming and memorable vocal chanting, and layers of different synthetic elements being added throughout.

This album combines nearly everything Animal Collective has been about conceptually and takes it to the next level. There are elements of the childlike innocence of Spirit They’ve Gone on For Reverend Green and Chores; Fireworks resembles the personal themes of Feels with its lyrics about wanting to be with someone, but not really feeling in love with them anymore. Safer and Cuckoo Cuckoo take a darker approach to their songwriting, the latter of which is about death and all of the things that come with it.

I think my reason for giving this a 9 and not a 9.5 or 10 is because it doesn’t seem to stand out as much in the grand scheme of Animal Collective/push one idea to its fullest potential; rather it’s a mix of everything the group does so well within one album. Which isn’t a problem; it just makes it a little more difficult to connect with on the whole for me.

4. Sung Tongs: 8.5/10

Youuuuuuu don’t haaaaaave to go to collegeeeeeeee

What a unique, beautiful project. The psychedelic folk sound to this is so distinct; I can’t really think of any album that reminds me of Sung Tongs. It’s subtle, but just as layered and intricate as any of Animal Collective’s pop efforts. To me, this album is just comfortable; it feels like sitting inside on an ordinary November day realizing you finally feel totally content with life.

The shaky vocals in Leaf House are so unusually effective; the tribal drums and folky guitars fit the song perfectly. Who Could Win a Rabbit opens with these gorgeous layered strings that are blissful yet hard-hitting. Winters Love starts all woozy with beautiful vocal fragments and guitars; the tempo change halfway through transitions it into this upbeat native-sounding song with more prominent drums and layered vocals. We Tigers is twisted and strange with its drumming and chanting vocals.

There are a few cuts here that are psychedelic and dreamlike; the hypnotic guitars on The Softest Voice feel like falling asleep outside at dusk. One might argue that Visiting Friends is too long; I could not disagree more passionately. The mesmerizing samples and strings flow through the track in a way that makes it engaging the entire way through. Not a single moment feels random or out of place; it’s like stepping into another universe.

Sung Tongs is a little more vaguely written than most of Anco’s other projects. It has a pretty wide array of topics, from the emptiness of Noah’s house after his father’s death on Leaf House to the amount of time the members began to spend in airports touring on Kids on Holiday. And of course there are themes of growing up and wanting to take life slower on tracks like Who Could Win a Rabbit.

Ultimately, this isn’t higher on my list because there are a few songs near the end of the album that didn’t need to be there. Mouth Wooed Her is like, fine, but I just feel like the vocals and instruments climax at awkward times that don’t really make sense. And Whaddit I Done doesn’t really justify its length and is a pretty underwhelming note to end on.

So that’s Sung Tongs.

Don’t go to college if you don’t know why you’re there. <3

5. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 8/10

This album sounds like happiness. Pure unadulterated joy. It’s this perfect combination between dream pop and art rock, with pristine, refined production. There’s an energy to this album that’s pretty hard not to love. Like many other people, this was the first Animal Collective project I ever heard, and it reminds me of falling in love with music, with life.

In The Flowers might be my favorite opener to any Animal Collective project (its only competition being Did You See The Words.) I did a painting based on this song; a shitty one, but it happened. This mystical synthetic soundscape in combination with lightweight guitars is beautiful, and the explosion of noise in the middle of the track honestly is up there with the most emotional moments I’ve ever had with music, period. This fades into My Girls, an energetic track with glimmering synths and deafening drums and bass. The distortion in Summertime Clothes gradually adds dreamier synths and vocal samples, and is easily another one of my favorite tracks here.

Bluish has this deep, murky production with a peppier chorus and an especially passionate vocal performance. No More Runnin’ is more simply produced with this repeated blissful synth pattern and slower drumming, but it’s a nice break from the chaos of Lion in a Coma, which has overpowering layers of sound. Brother Sport is one of the most upbeat tracks on the whole album with a good amount of beat switchups, sunshiny layers of electronic sounds and syncopated pianos.

The lyrics on this album communicate joy in the same way the sonic palette does. A good amount of these tracks are about how it feels to be totally in love with someone; Bluish is a great example of this innocence, and Summertime Clothes takes the concept of wanting to spend time with someone/uses imagery of the boiling heat of the summer to add to the warm feel of the song. Literally pure bliss. In The Flowers is a reflection on how Anco’s members’ lives have changed positively from being musicians. Brother Sport is Noah Lennox encouraging his brother to heal after the death of their father. The whole thing is pretty positive in comparison to, say, Spirit They’ve Gone or Feels.

I think the only place where this record falls somewhat short is that a few songs don’t feel nearly as engaging as other Anco songs the whole way through. Also Frightened is a great song/idea, but goes on for a little too long to hold my interest. The explosion of vocal samples on Guys Eyes are questionable/kind of messy and don’t really flow into the break very well.

Other than that, Merriweather Post Pavilion was one of those album that was a stepping stone for me in starting to really care about music. It’ll always have a place in my heart for that reason… and I don’t know how you can’t cry listening to some of these songs.

Don’t let this release pass by you if you haven’t already heard it.

6. Centipede hz- 7/10


Look, I get it. This isn’t perfect. Its most obvious flaw is how cluttered all of the songs feel when placed into an album next to each other. It’s kind of difficult to listen to the whole way through in one sitting.

BUT LOOK!!! The fact IS that the production is still pretty sick on a lot of these songs. It’s at least interesting the entire way through. No song necessarily stands out as bad. On the whole it’s a fun, energetic, consistent release.

This album’s experience is pretty much entirely on the sonic side of things. Moonjock has these memorable, hard-hitting drum leads and fuzzy guitars; Today’s Supernatural’s sporadic drumming and animated synths are similarly upbeat. The ascending synth lead on Wide Eyed is one of the album’s memorable moments; Father Time is a little more relaxed, and has a soft, drifting quality to it and more laid-back drumming.

My personal favorite on the album is Monkey Riches, a playful/colorful track with bouncy electronic production and a satisfyingly chaotic chorus. The project closes with two tracks that slow down the pace a little bit; Pulleys is probably the prettiest song on the tracklist, with bright/glistening production, and Amanita’s native sounding drums and tribal beat makes it a standout song here as well. Occasionally though, the production does fall flat. The elements in Rosie Oh just read as way too much at once and I have no idea what to focus on, for example.

This album just feels like it’s missing something that nearly all of Animal Collective’s other projects have. Hell, even Campfire Songs, Here Comes The Indian, and Danse Manatee had it at times. I think a lot of it is the emotional vocal performances; this whole thing just feels more surface-level. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still well done, it’s just not nearly to the level of the others. Another thing is the lack of clear conceptual direction within the lyrics; it’s kind of all over the place, and it suffers for it.

Still tho, there’s some bangers on this album, stop HATING

7. Campfire Songs: 6.5/10

This album reminds me of listening to 5 different versions of Visiting Friends. The sonic palette is pretty unique and psychedelic, and definitely reminds me more of Sung Tongs than Here Comes The Indian. It’s just less structured, more drawn out, and individual songs are less memorable.

Here’s the thing, though: this album doesn’t really go much of anywhere. The whole thing is drifting and spaced-out, and while it makes for a really beautiful listen, I feel that there are other Anco projects that incorporated this melancholy, go-nowhere style in a way that made more sense and wasn’t as extreme.

Queen In My Pictures combines atmospheric vocals and hazy strings in a captivatingly beautiful way; the guitars build up in energy and climax on Doggy.

Moo Rah Rah Rain is super awkward with its spacey vocals and guitars that fade in and out. It just drones on and on and I feel like the whole time I’m waiting for the song to actually start/do something. De Soto De Son is similar, but at least it has a solid guitar pattern the whole way through.

Still, something about this project is really captivating. It’s strange. One part of me thinks it’s amazing and once I put it on I love it, but the other part is like, dude, this gets boring fast, and the last two songs....

Here Comes The Indian: 5/10

I don’t get it.

I’m so sorry.

I feel like everyone’s in on some secret that I didn’t hear about, because this does close to nothing for me. I mean, it’s got a pretty distinct soundscape with native drumming and vocals; Hey Light has a pretty cool bizarre/watery sound, Infant Dressing Table is pretty with its layers upon layers of subtle vocal samples and droning synths. Two Sails on a Sound is probably my favorite track here, with its lustrous melancholy production.

Here’s the problem. These all feel like nice ideas, but the album is jumbled and not tied together well at all. The songs feel so half-baked on the whole and I feel like it’s wasted potential. Some songs drag on for way too long, others are cut awkwardly short, and there are no satisfying climaxes. It kind of feels like just a bunch of elements thrown together at random times trying to pass as an album.

Yeah, I’m sorry guys, I just don’t get this for now. A lot of people do seem to love this album though, so maybe it’ll click in a year for me like Spirit They’ve Gone did.

Painting With- 4.5/10

If you guys keep acting like this is the worst thing to ever happen to music, we might have issues, it’s not that bad.

This album feels vaguely similar to the psychedelic pop found in Merriweather Post Pavilion, but taken in a more zany/quirky direction. FloriDada is great, it’s got these layered vocal samples and wacked-out production and an undeniably catchy hook. Hocus Pocus is another example of a song that pulled this sound off well for the most part; its murky synth layers are fairly pleasing. Golden Gal is another obvious banger here, and is definitely a lot better mixed than the majority of the album.

But that doesn’t mean the production in a lot of the deeper cuts isn’t questionable. The sporadic, short, cluttered vocal samples are just a little...much. They kind of use the same sounding samples the entire way through the album and it just gets old fast. Can we switch it up pls? Like, Recycling had such potential to be a nice song and they ruined it with these awkward additions that nearly overtake the entire song. The Burglars and Natural Selection both just have wayyy too much going on at once; the horns in Lying in the Grass feel so awkward in their context and the track’s intent is pretty much ruined by its shitty mixing.

Yeah, I mean, ya know. There’s a few songs that are alright, but this is definitely not what you should use to try out Animal Collective. Please don’t.

Danse Manatee: 2.5/10

O fuckin lord

I don’t even really know what to say. This is barely decipherable. Sure, you can separate its elements and say oh, that’s distortion, those are drums, that’s a synth, that sound isn’t terrible, but like… this is just a bunch of random noise thrown together. There’s no coherent structure, melodies, organization, etc.

I can’t believe I sat through the whole thing, honestly. Every time I try to give it another chance I’m disappointed. There’s honestly nothing that’s going to pay off in the end from sitting through it. I’m DISAPPOINTED.

I’m kidding, it’s fine, I’ve heard worse. This was pretty much Avey Tare and Panda Bear figuring out what the hell they were doing. They’d just come out of the metaphoric music making womb, give them a break.

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