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Spirit they've gone dansing
on October 2, 2006
Before the Animal Collective was called that (original name: Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin and Geologist), they were already producing oddball music -- three full-length albums and a live performance. Their first two albums were "Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished," and "Danse Manitee," a pair of radically different experimental albums. One is definitely inspired, while the other is amateurish.
"Danse Manitee" starts off with a strange whining sound, sort of like an electronic disturbance, in the oddly named "A Manatee Dance." That whining continues throughout the song, interrupted by sudden bursts of video-game blips. But the tone changes with the electro-thrash of "Penguin Penguin," an abstract collection of calls and drums, and ambient fuzzpop.
They continue to vary wildly in style throughout the album, noodling through hallucinatory pop, thumping rock interspersed with cries, muted acoustics, and the rippling distortion music, which is likely to give listeners a splitting headache. But there are some solid songs in the second half, like the murky "Throwin' the Round Ball" and folky "Ahhhh Good Country."
"Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished" also opens with high-pitched distortion, which continues in a few songs after that, but it's a much easier album to embrace. After the intro, they launch into a screaming fuzz-rock beginning, which switches into the melodic pop of "April and the Phantom," complete with chirping birds and fast guitar.
From there on, the band tries out a variety of pop styles, all with the background noise and fuzzy edges that Animal Collective fans will expect. There's the gentle piano leading up to a dreamy "Penny Dreadfuls," the creepy Halloweeny "Chocolate Girl," the electro-cricket "Everyone Whistling," and finally finishing up with the twelve-minute pop melody of "Alvin Row," which seamlessly switches from pop to rock to experimental soundscapes.
Like many a double album, these two suffer from a simple problem: One is brilliant, and the other is... well, not. "Danse Manitee" is a fairly good experimental album, with some good electronics and vocals, but there's always the feeling of talented, inexperienced musicians who are just sort of noodling around, and not playing to their strengths. With most songs, there's the feeling that it could have been so much more.
"Spirit They're Gone..." is the reverse. Here, the now-Animal Collective is playing to their strengths -- catchy pop melodies, marinated in experimental sounds and pastoral noises. Basic guitars, drums and pianos are immersed in electronic noise and distortion, bell-like synth, and samples of crickets, birds and other things. And soft, crooning vocals are laid over the whole thing, making the softer songs seem almost lulling.
"Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished" and "Danse Manitee" are worth checking out, whether it's for the experimental pop or for the die-hard Animal Collective fan, wanting to see the band's early days. One is great, while the other merely mediocre.