Animal Collective – Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished

Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished                         

Animal Collective – 2000

GENRE: Experimental Rock

GRADE:     A-

HIGHLIGHTS: “Spirit They’ve Vanished”, “Penny Dreadfuls”

Shhh! Do you want to hear a secret? I know one.”

An inviting pixie-like whisper opens up Animal Collective’s debut.  The “secret” in question, then, must be the dense droning keyboards backed up by an unwieldy electronic squall so dissonant and atonal that you can’t help but wince in ear-shock.  The noise spurts out like a live wire on the ground, sparks a-flying; don’t come near and certainly don’t touch.  But after a while, it settles into a kind of rhythm, a kind of perfectly timed cadence.  It’s amazing, really, that an entire song could be built upon what sounds like a late ‘90s computer dial-up.  It is perhaps the album’s greatest feat, then, that not only an entire song is built around it, but an entirely good song is the result.  “Spirit They’ve Vanished” is as vast as it is immediately off-putting, but it is also just as enrapturing.

Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished is surprisingly good.  I had no idea what to expect when I first heard it.  I had listened to a couple of songs from Here Comes the Indian and Danse Manatee and came to the conclusion that early Animal Collective just plain ol’ stunk, and that the further back you went, the shittier it got.

This line of thinking is simply not true.  Animal Collective—Avey Tare and Panda Bear at this point—were just fine from the start, if not a little weird.  Using feedback loops, lo-fi recording techniques (parents’ basements, etc.), and a dearth of originality, the two crafted a truly unique and unshakeable debut.

There’s celestial tinkering noise mixed with volatile electronic NOIZE.  Sometimes, like on the opener, it’s fantastic, otherworldly, mesmerizing, etc.  Other times, it’s questionable and migraine-pissing.  What’s migraine-pissing, you might ask?  Well…just listen to “[untitled]”.

But there are also some truly great moments here.  “Penny Dreadfuls” is a Top 10 Animal Collective song, I think.  Beautiful melodies, beautiful lyrics, and beautiful Avey Tare.  However, it ends with an electronic flourish that sounds like the cross between a zipper and a wet fart.  It’s almost enough to completely ruin the song.  Almost.

12-minute grand finale “Alvin Row” is another highlight—emerging from a clusterfuck of white noise dissonance and cocooning into a surreal dreamscape.  It’s not as good as I desperately want it to be, but it does lay the groundwork for future Animal Collective slow-burn “epics.”

Even at this earliest stage, you can still see some of Animal Collective’s signature tricks on full display.  Avey Tare is far more subdued than he usually is—hiding his voice behind mumbles—but occasionally lets loose for a scream or two.  He also likes to throw in some jokes(?) too, but I doubt anyone’s laughing (more like cringing) during the “pretty angel” section of “La Rapet”.

Panda Bear is relegated to drums and percussion, but he might be the real MVP here.  His jazzy brushstrokes and lively bass-drum-thumps keep this sleepy music alive.  And yes—aside from the occasional deafening electronic blast—this is sleepytime music.  Avey Tare’s lyrics and voice conjure up dreamy fairy tale nostalgia, while the skewered electro-folk is a successful Starry Night mood setter.

This is a good album, and the more you like Animal Collective, the more you retrospectively enjoy it.  It’s one of their stranger efforts, for sure, but it’s definitely something worth listening to more than once.

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