Animal Collective captures the Amazon rainforest on ‘Meeting of the Waters’
Animal Collective is a group that has gone through some changes over the years.
Leaning heavily on the “collective” part of their name, members come and go and come again, often causing some drastic changes between records.
And, depending on how closely you’ve followed Animal Collective’s major shifts in sound over the years, you might greet their newest EP, “Meeting of the Waters,” either with a sense of nostalgia or confusion.
At the beginning of Animal Collective’s career, their early records like “Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished” and “Campfire Songs” were done in a style the group dubbed “freak folk.” It essentially entailed a mix of traditional folk and psychedelia, with long, meandering segments of songs being improvised, often being recorded live at some outdoor location.
Then the group shifted into a more electronic direction, like with their albums “Strawberry Jam” and the wildly successful “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” These records rocketed the group to a new level of success, thanks to their experimental approach to what were, at their core, more standard pop songs.
This causes a rather drastic split between two eras of Animal Collective, but “Meeting of the Waters” easily sounds like it could have been released in the first era, because it has all the trappings of an early Animal Collective release.
“Meeting of the Waters” is the group’s first project to only feature members Avey Tare (David Portner) and Geologist (Brian Weitz), and it was recorded live in the Amazon rainforest. Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), who is typically a staple for the group acting as a second lead singer to counteract Portner, is noticeably absent, while Deakin (Josh Dibb), the group’s least frequent collaborator, continues his habit of not showing up.
In many ways, this project could be looked at more as a piece of sound art than a cohesive record. It’s unfair to say that there are only two musicians on the project, as the rain forest itself functions almost as a third instrumentalist.
Whenever Portner and Weitz quiet down enough, the rustling of leaves and the whirring of insects can plainly be heard. It gives the record a real sense of being an event that happened somewhere, rather than being planned in the way that most records are.
But whether you see it as an event or as you would see any other EP, “Meeting of the Waters” is the definition of a slow burn.
The EP’s opening track, “Blue Noses,” is over 13 minutes of Weitz adding electronic bleeps and bloops to back Portner’s lazily strummed guitar and his warbling about… something. The track takes on a meditative, dreamlike quality to it, easily transporting the listener to the headspace the band is in. Portner sings earnestly, but, like with most dreams, the more closely you try to inspect the meaning, the less sense it makes.
This is a theme that carries through the rest of the record (and, if we’re being honest, through much of the rest of Animal Collective’s discography), with the chorus of the next track, “Man of Oil,” boiling down to total nonsense: “Wizard with a wand/ competing with the lightning,/ coward and also a king/ and a man of oil.” It feels as though it could mean something, but Portner never quite gives us enough to figure out what exactly.
“Man of Oil” is easily the catchiest track on the EP, and also feels like the one that was the most pre-planned before recording. Portner’s idiosyncratic singing makes the track feel jagged, almost like the part of your dream that you’re most awake for. It’s the part that feels most like it could take place outside of the space set up for “Meeting of the Waters.”
The track that follows, however, immediately plunges the listener straight back into the dream, as “Amazonawana / Annaconda Opportunity” is a five-minute long track focusing mostly on Weitz’s sampled sound effects and the sounds of the forest itself. With an emphasis on vocal sound effects for the first half, the track feels very much like a vocalization of the subconscious.
The record moves into the fourth and final track, “Selection of a Place – Rio Negro Version,” which returns to the meandering, improvised sounds of “Blue Noses.” Portner is subdued here, as is Weitz, while the rainforest seems its most active here. The insects and birds scream while Portner repeats over and over about wanting to find a “place to stay, place to stay.”
Then, much like a dream, the album fades back into reality, using a cloud of Weitz’s sound effects to blur out the sounds of the rainforest.
“Meeting of the Waters” is truly a remarkable return to form for Animal Collective. With each song blurring into the next, it’s hard to think of the record as anything other than a complete unit. It develops a unique sound for itself while hearkening back to the group’s earliest records.
While it may present a challenge to listeners who only became fans of Animal Collective after their turn to more pop-focused sounds, “Meeting of the Waters” presents a challenge well worth tackling.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6119 or on Twitter @PatKernan
Album: ‘Meeting of the Waters’
Artist: Animal Collective
Best Track: ‘Man of Oil’