Where the Wild Things Are

Out of the woods and out of their shell, semi-local foursome Animal Collective deliver an album for the unconverted

To Josh, the essence of Animal Collective is hearing: "Listening to music on a boombox on a porch, I'm also aware of these insects I hear over there, and that Noah is talking to me over here. That's where the pastoral element comes in." The result is sharp, contoured, almost narrative ambient music, with the sexy parts—big beats, spiraling melodies, footloose band racket—still dominant. Sonic exotica though it may be, the sound is carefully considered. Says Dave: "The worst comment anyone has said about us in the past is, 'These guys made this record and they obviously didn't even care what they were doing.' "

The band's process is peculiar, and painstaking. Someone will record a riff, melody, or found sound; share and maybe manipulate it with someone else; and bring it to the group. Then the group will convert "those sounds into other sounds that don't sound anything like those sounds" (according to Noah); noodle it all together, as a band, in an instrument-stuffed practice space, using invented tunings; tour with the songs; record them; then, finally, retire them. Or not. Maybe they'll, as Josh says, "completely trash everything but the basic structure," then play them some more. "Total improvisation can be really tough," Dave reasons. "This is the best of both worlds, because we also like to write songs."

If all this sounds strangely disjointed, consider the facts: The boys are always grinding, making music in combination with any given member or members, other random people, themselves. (The first official Animal Collective disc, Here Comes the Indian, was released in 2003, but various incarnations of the group, principally Dave and Noah, had already put out five albums.) And as of this past summer, none of them even lived in the same city—Dave was in Paris with his roommate, Black Dice's Eric Copeland, playing music of their own. (Brooklyn's Black Dice, it should be noted, began as one of those antagonistic bands, violently interacting with their audiences.) Although it would be cool if they were, Animal Collective aren't actually holed up in some woodsy commune in the far reaches of East Williamsburg.

People understandably jump to such conclusions when they hear drums and see clam diggers. Animal Collective do exist on the fringe of a pattern—call it crunch, because that sort of sounds like crunk—principally composed of fringes. You can draw some crooked lines connecting them with jammy Toronto troupe Broken Social Scene, pseudo-gospel rubes-in-robes Polyphonic Spree, Martian pastoralists Black Dice, even that loathsome longhair Devendra Banhart. Crunch intends to coax indie out of its shell (no small thing, by the way, considering that Death Cab for Cutie model themselves after Coldplay). Animal Collective also mean to crack open that shell and look inside.

Feels, like other AC records, renders—and creates, with those sounds and words you must listen for—intimacy (as opposed to alienation and irony, VH1's purview). "This record has taken on a special meaning for us," Dave says, "just being able to get together and have the time that we do." The album, recorded in Seattle following a year in which the band toured four times, manifests the fleet, perfectly weighted feel of a well-honed live show. Four dizzy, ebullient tracks (of the disc's nine), including the aforementioned "Did You See the Words," could be the looped palimpsests of random pop. "Grass," the single (and not, the band avers, named for that grass), spins a cloud-parting chorus out of a coy backup coo, ax-hack war whoops, and tremendous cymbal smashes, then flips back into a breathless, sweetly sing-sung word spill and pillowy back-country bounce. Then there are the sizzurp-sipping songs. The taffy-like "Flesh Canoe" (didn't ask) raises the shades on a bleary-eyed, late-morning bed scene in which there's "more things to do than kiss and sleep," while the recovered-memory "Bees" seems to examine—with wonder and an empathetic, dilatory tempo—smoked-out residents of a hive.

"Once, somebody wrote, 'These are men who have never seen mirrors,' " Dave marvels, highlighting some negative press. As remarks go, it's not the fairest of them all. They're not slobs. And if, while so many are lost in the We Are the 00'sfun house, Animal Collective stroll off the grounds, who are we to warn them about finding their way back?

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