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Animal Collective

Animal Crack Box

[Catsup Plate; 2009]

By ; May 27, 2009 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

You’d assume the next step for the currently stratospherically hyped Animal Collective (after finally incontrovertibly breaking into the ‘mainstream’ with the stunning Merriweather Post Pav–-this is wasting words, you know all this already) would be to release an EP of b-sides or studio outtakes from the Merriweather sessions (a Prospect Hummer to Merriweather’s Sung Tongs, a People to its Feels, or a Water Curses to its Strawberry Jam), in order to capitalize on their sudden surge in popularity. Instead, after about three years of veiled reference and rumor, this twenty-track set recorded at some of the Baltimore outfit’s storied early live shows – which consisted of tribal percussion, screeching, animal masks and general avant-garde antics – has finally surfaced, and in predictably limited fashion – an edition of just one thousand distributed from an independent New York retailer you’ve almost definitely never heard of. Equally predictably, this has led to sentences such as ‘I have never seen this box set in person, only the box it was shipped to me in. It is basically coming direct from the factory to you simply routed through me’ being typed on eBay, alongside a minimum 200% markup – almost as if the band wanted to create something for people to fight over. Then again, this is somewhat of an indie relic – if Animal Collective are to be one of the defining bands of the 00’s (contentious, I know), this is surely worth the $92 it was originally sold for, at least to its target audience, as it is unique in that it demonstrates the artistic parabola of the band, and fills in gaps that the 2002 live set Hollindagain left open.

Recorded on MiniDisc, the overall feel of the songs is closest to the lo-fi Campfire Songs, featuring acoustic tracks contrasting with more abrasive, sample and effects based songs. There is a danger of the latter ‘type’ being too difficult and not worth bothering with; but it is in this way that the collection is successful. While several of the songs are undeniably difficult, the inclusion of a melody or some form of hook is never ignored, and the roots of the current, more accessible incarnation of Animal Collective can be traced back to some of these songs.

Opener “Jimmy Raven” is a shimmering mass of tight, writhing samples, static and “Alvin Row”-esque percussion, climaxing with Avey Tare’s almost despairing ‘D’you feel electric?’, continuing straight into the abrasive, metallic “Ahhh Good Country” , and then into the percussion-centric “Iko Ovo,” the beat gradually unlocking itself and then subsiding.

Side B is the collected “Pumpkin Trilogy,” and is sonically closest to Hollindagain, which was recorded a few months after the songs that appear here. The next side consists of gentle acoustic guitars and sweet harmonising from Avey Tare and Panda Bear. The more crowded and brutal sides D and E are both standouts and perhaps relate most closely to the band’s current incarnation, relying heavily on feedback loops and effects, “Oh Sweet” in being a particularly deft balance between melody and grinding noise, evoking the band’s debut, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished. “Ice Cream Factory” displays the signature childhood-evoking melody and lyrical content that is prevalent throughout much of the band’s work.

The point here is that every side can be related to things we’ve already heard from the band, but nothing is just a mere live version of a ‘studio’ track or a dull interlude. Everything is a rewarding listen – the even more stripped down “De Soto De Sun,” the energetic “Hey Light,” Avey’s terrifying screamed eulogy midway through “Do The Nurse”. Animal Crack Box practically never feels contrived or unnecessary. The relatively poor quality of the recordings emphasises the organic and filtered feel of the songs (the only time this fails is on the knowingly unlistenable rendition of “We Tigers” at the end of the last side), as well as conjuring up the atmosphere of these early live shows extremely well. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this collection is the accessibility of most of the tracks – even those familiar with only Merriweather Post Pavilion are likely to find something they like here.

Crucially, this set is the ‘missing link’ in Animal Collective’s discography – it provides a cohesive, very interesting and surprisingly listenable selection of music that informs and backs up their other studio work to date.


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