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Cubism on A Pop Song: Animal Collective’s Tangerine Reef and 5 other audio-visual spectacles


Animal Collective’s recently announced
Tangerine Reef sets up yet another worthy entry into the band’s wildly and restlessly imaginative avant-pop oeuvre. An audiovisual project, it sees the Baltimore outfit team up with coral macro-videographers Coral Morphologic to mark the 2018 Year of The Reef (band members Deakin and Geologist, who studied marine biology, are avid divers). The video for first single “Hair Cutter” offers a taste of the collaboration: against breathtaking shots of electric-hued corals and reefs unfurls an eerie, echo-ridden track, reverberating with Avey Tare aka Dave Portner’s forlorn vocals. The overall effect is one of dark, strange, and hypnotic beauty—the song’s elegiac, meditative tone vibrating across the textures and colors of marine life.

Of course, this is hardly Animal Collective’s first foray into the visual realm. The band’s sound has never been able to sit still within the grooves of any single record, but rather, has brimmed with visual concepts, and spilled over into art and film. Fact is, for the group, there are no actual divisions between the musical and graphical; and in any case, they’re constantly crossing, erasing, and generally disregarding those lines. As Portner told Fader in 2005, “Ink is a major theme in our music.” To commemorate their latest (and definitely not last) audio-visual adventure, here are five other Animal Collective projects that satisfy more than one of your senses.

Feels by Animal Collective, 2005, designed by Avey Tare.

Feels (2005) The similarities between the youthful album sleeve of Feels and Henry Darger’s surreal, fantastic illustrations, which came populated with odd flora, war storms, and young rebels, was uncanny. Portner, who created the cover, certainly was a fan of Darger’s work, but “didn’t really have it in mind when [he] made the cover.” Then again, his act of cutting up and collaging images from a children’s educational guide is Darger-like enough in method. He also “thought some of the images fit the sound and the lyrics perfectly,” which is pretty spot-on, considering the record’s kooky, childlike air on songs like “The Purple Bottle” (“It’d make me sick sick sick to kiss you and I think that I would vomit”) and “Did You See The Words” (“I kissed a few in sticky shoes / our cartoon show is broken”).

Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective, 2007, photography by Avey Tare, design by SEEN Studio.

Strawberry Jam (2007) The sound of Animal Collective’s seventh album had everything to do with the look and taste of strawberry jam. Drummer Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), upon opening a packet of strawberry jam on a plane enroute to Greece, remarked that he’d love for their upcoming record to sound like the jam looked: “something that’s really synthetic and sharp and futuristic looking,” “tangy and sweet, almost in a kind of aggressive way in terms of the way it tastes.” That feast expands onto the cover, shot by Avey Tare, which illustrates the album’s sound and taste with a plate of smushed, bleeding strawberries.

Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective, 2009, cover by Akiyoshi Kitaoka, design by SEEN Studio.

Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009) Stunning from first glance, Animal Collective’s smash hit led with a sleeve based on the optical illusions of Japanese psychologist Akiyoshi Kitaoka. The art’s trippy appearance of motion is down to a phenomenon known as peripheral drift illusion, a fluke in our cognitive systems that influences visual perception. If all that’s not dizzying enough, there’s the album’s own playful, psychedelic nature to contend with.

ODDSAC, 2010, directed by Danny Perez.

ODDSAC (2010) Four whole years in the making, ODDSAC was a collaborative effort between the band and director Danny Perez to produce what became known as a “visual record.” What it was an immersive project consisting of a 53-minute film and a soundtrack of 13 tracks—both created in tandem and in connection. “We didn’t want to have [Perez] make a video and have us score to it, and we didn’t want to make a piece of music and have him just cut a video to it,” explained Deakin in 2010. Perez added, “It was meant to be an open-ended operation of audio-video synthesis, the passing back and forth of visuals and sound, so that each would inform the other and create an organic structure.” Indeed, there are barely seams between the hallucinatory, horror-infused film (which features appearances from the band members) and its many-textured score—the combination of which is heart-stoppingly visceral and naturally, weird.

Painting With by Animal Collective, 2016, art by Brian Degraw, design by SEEN Studio.

Painting With (2016) The key motif on Animal Collective’s 10th album was evident, if not from its title and covers, then from its opening track, the stupidly infectious “Floridada,” which declares, “I found myself there a collagin’ with all of the human race.” Dada’s penchant for recontextualization and surprise are all over Painting With, which pointedly stitches songs, instruments, and samples together in novel ways. “We’ve always been into the collage approach and used it a lot in our music, often more in an ambient way,” explained Lennox in 2016. “This time, we wanted to be more direct, and have things feel like they’ve been stitched together, things inserted into songs where you wouldn’t expect to find them—like singing about Cubism on a pop song.” All that’s in addition to the three different illustrated sleeves—fragmented portraits of Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist created by visual artist and Gang Gang Dance member Brian Degraw—and the Painting With app, which allows two users to collaborate on a painting as the intensely abstracted sounds of “Lying On The Grass” offer sonic accompaniment.

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