Interviews

Animal Collective's Catalog Is a Vast Ocean for the Listener to Swim in and Out Of

Animal Collective
Animal Collective Photo by Hisham Bharoocha
If the only Animal Collective track you're familiar with is the band's 2009 experimental pop hit "My Girls," it's time to do yourself a favor and dig deeper into the quartet's impressive 22-year body of work.

After coming together in Baltimore, Josh Dibb (Deakin), Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), Brian Weitz (Geologist), and Dave Portner (Avey Tare) have consistently churned out music over the past two decades with no signs of slowing down. While some members have sat out various projects and tours, all four enlisted for this latest iteration.

The best part about being an Animal Collective fan is being pulled in by the band's experimental, genre-spanning discography. Each project jumps off from the one before it while somehow never sounding the same, making it impossible to choose a favorite.

"I think when you read about us in a lot of journals and stuff, there's a single narrative, and I understand what the narrative is. It makes sense to me what the arch is and what people see as peaks and valleys," Dibb says, perhaps alluding to publications such as Pitchfork that often date the band's heyday to its Merriweather Post Pavilion or Feels period.

"When I actually interact with younger fans and talk to them, I feel there's much more of this sense of there being this vast ocean of material that I feel like people could swim in and out of," Dibb adds.

There are many ways one can dive into AnCo's music. It's perhaps easiest to start with the most well-known albums — like 2009's dreamy, psych-pop Merriweather Post Pavilion, 2007's chaotic indie piece Strawberry Jam, and the high-energy electronic samples and sounds from 2012's Centipede Hz.

For those wanting to explore further into Animal Collective's odder catalog, 2004's Sung Tongs is a hallmark in freak-folk, and the band's debut, 2000's Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished (released initially as a Panda Bear and Avey Tare project), is a lo-fi experimental acoustic noise album compiled of crazy percussions from Panda, Avey's up-and-down vocals and piano, and high-frequency sounds.

Sprinkled around the band's 11 studio albums are standout EPs such as 2005's Prospect Hummer — a collaboration with British folk singer Vashti Bunyan — and 2006's Fall Be Kind, which includes the first-ever licensed Grateful Dead sample in the track "What Would I Want? Sky."

Exploring other mediums, Animal Collective released its first audiovisual album, ODDSAC, in 2010, featuring psychedelic visuals by Danny Perez. The film was first screened at Miami's since-shuttered venue Grand Central.
The band's second audiovisual album was a collaboration with duo Colin Foord and Jared "J.D." McKay of Coral Morphologic. The two teams (minus Panda Bear) were brought together in 2018 by Borscht Corporation to create "Coral Orgy," an ambient performance that paired the band's music with visuals by Coral Morphologic at the New World Center in Miami Beach. The songs from the concert were reworked in the studio and paired with high-quality clips of bioluminescent coral filmed by Coral Morphologic to form the album Tangerine Reef.

For further listening, all members of Animal Collective have worked on their own solo projects, such as Dibb's album Sleep Cycle, which launched his solo career in 2016. Dibb is hoping to have the time to finally work on his next project this fall or winter.

"I've been writing new songs on and off for the last three or four years," he says. "I'm just a slowpoke and haven't gotten around to recording it."

Avey Tare, known for his singing style that ranges from soft whispers to guttural screams, tends to slow it down in his solo efforts resulting in a darker, stripped-down version of Animal Collective, often themed around scapes of animals and nature.

Panda Bear is perhaps the band's most familiar solo artist, thanks to the critically acclaimed sample-based album Person Pitch. His 2015 album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, was coproduced by Pete Kember, AKA Sonic Boom of '80s English space-rock outfit Spacemen 3. The pair plans to collaborate again on Panda Bear's next album, Reset.

On tour, Geologist often opens for Avey Tare or Panda Bear with an ambient synth set. In 2018, he released a live performance from Asheville Masonic Temple titled Live in the Land of the Sky on cassette.

Ultimately, there's no wrong way to begin exploring Animal Collective — but be ready for a weird and long journey.

For fans who've already dug deep into the band's albums and EPs, Animal Collective keeps listeners on their toes by playing fresh, unheard material at shows, mixed in with a few of its hits.

"We are thoughtful about trying to give people stuff that they'll be psyched about, but we push people," Dibb explains. "Obviously, there's a version of Animal Collective that would go on stage, and every night they would play 'Fireworks,' 'My Girls,' and 'Brother Sport.' I know we could be that band, and we've chosen not to be."

Recalling a 2016 show at the Baltimore venue Merriweather Post Pavilion (namesake of the band's illustrious album) to see the Cure and wanting to hear popular tracks like "Pictures of You" and "Boy's Don't Cry,"  Dibb says, "I can relate to a fan who's just like, 'I want to hear the song; that's the song I want to hear.' But I also feel like most of my life as a fan of music, the musical moments that have moved me the most have been times where I've been in a room hearing something I've never heard before and don't understand, and it's changing how my ears work."
Released this past February, the band's latest album, Time Skiffs, was a move into a new, chilled-out jam band-esque direction wherein Panda Bear, along with his usual polished vocals and harmonies, returns to the drum set with a more uniform pace versus a wild and erratic style found on previous records.

Geologist also brought in the addition of the psychedelic string instrument known as a hurdy-gurdy, which he can be seen cranking in the video of "Prester John" and at live shows. Dibb, who participates on guitar or synth, also engages heavier on vocals in Time Skiffs by jumping into harmonies with Avey and Panda and leading the track "Royal and Desire."

"Most of the music was written in 2019, before the pandemic. We wrote like 18 songs, and in January 2020, we were making plans to go into the studio and record all of it, and when the pandemic happened, so we had to put everything on hold," Dibb explains. "So Time Skiffs ended up being just a batch of those songs we felt like we could record remotely since we couldn't see each other."

Dibb says the songs that didn't make it into Time Skiffs, plus a few newer additions, will find their way onto a new album or EP sometime next year  — this time recorded in a studio.

"We're kind of audiophile weirdos, so we wanted to record this all straight to tape, very analog," he adds. The band worked with Grammy-winning music engineer Russell Elevado, known for his dedication to analog and work with R&B artist D'Angelo.

"At this point, we're focused on continuing playing these songs, loving them, and waiting for this new record to come out," Dibb says. "I know everyone's also switched a little bit into thinking about solo music."

Dibb also admits to experiencing lingering health issues after he and Portner caught COVID last month, which led to the cancellation of Animal Collective's May and June tour dates. 

"It was worst-case scenario, but I'm really happy we've been able to reschedule the dates," Dibb says.

Along with the rescheduled dates, Animal Collective was also able to add shows in New Orleans and three shows in Florida, including a July 8 stop at Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale.

The last time the band performed in South Florida was in 2016 at the Fillmore Miami Beach in support of its tenth studio album, Painting With — a project Dibb skipped.

Animal Collective. 7 p.m. Friday, July 8, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-449-1025; jointherevolution.net. Tickets cost $28.50 via ticketmaster.com.
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Catherine Toruño is a music and arts writer from West Kendall. She enjoys sustainable fashion, attending local music shows, and exploring Miami on her bike.