In an über-cool Brooklyn stuck in the last gasps of a post-punk hangover, small tribes of music-mad woodland creatures, including one Animal Collective, lurk in the forests ready to pounce. Instead of surgically sharpening asymmetrical ’80s haircuts, these little critters let their golden tresses run free. They swap black-clad cynicism for a kaleidoscopic array of hues; instead of angles, their songs embrace circles. Syd Barrett’s inner child might be trapped in there somewhere, too. “My God, they sound like hippies,” you say between drags on your ironic cigarette. But Animal Collective (Avey Tare and Panda Bear, and, more recently, Geologist and Deaken) are hip hippies: cüül like Amon Düül (I and II). Besides, you brooding 1981-lover, look at early Rough Trade—those guys were wacked-out tree huggers too! And dance-dance-dancing to the post-punk radio meant not only death-discoing around to jerky rhythms but also grooving to the shaggy experimentalism of bands like This Heat.
Warm rays of This Heat-ed weirdness filter through the trees into Animal Collective’s murky, bubbling sonic swamp. Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished and Danse Manatee were first released in 2000 and 2001 on obscure labels (Animal and Catsup Plate, respectively), but were reissued recently as a double-disc, on the heels of the more meandering, less engrossing recent album Here Comes the Indian. On Spirit, fragments of luminous pop melody glimmer through a thick, woolly coat of static. Avey Tare’s lilting voice cuts in and out like a garbled transmission, while layers of burbling synths, acoustic strums, rich piano lines, and music-box chimes add to the hallucinatory haze. Danse Manatee is more untamed and less coherent—a strange soup of swirling squeals and squalls, psychedelic drones, rumbling percussion, and singsongy chants, topped with big dollops of processing. It’s an engaging introduction to Animal Collective’s creepy-crawly shamanism, a world gently fried in lysergic acid diethylamide.