Brash menagerie

Animal Collective’s plan for world domination  
By WILL SPITZ  |  February 15, 2006

ACCESSIBLE Call Animal Collective brash and experimental if you must, but to them it’s all catchy pop.“When we’re making a new record, we always think we’re going to have this backlash because it sounds different [from our last one],” says Animal Collective’s Dave Portner (a/k/a Avey Tare) when I reach him at his Brooklyn apartment. “We always take more of a negative point of view: ‘Well, nobody’s going to like this one because so many more people liked the last one.’ ”

They haven’t been right yet. Since 2003’s Here Comes the Indian (Paw Tracks) — the first AC album made by all four of the group’s members: Portner, Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), Brian Weitz (Geologist), and Josh Dibb (Deakin) — their fan base has grown steadily. This Tuesday, they kick off their highest-profile tour to date in support of last year’s Feels (Fat Cat) with a show that was moved from the Paradise to Avalon because of the overwhelming demand. As my conversation with Portner progresses, I realize that despite all that’s been said about the band’s “childishness” and their “improvised” live shows, just about everything these four former Maryland high-school chums do is completely thought out. That “negative point of view” is just their way of insulating themselves from outside pressure. “Maybe that just keeps us doing what we want to do,” Portner offers.

So what exactly do they do? Animal Collective have been tacked with a number of labels — pop, noise rock, shout gospel, sonic exotica, avant-primitivism, musique concrète, freakadelic communal folk rock . . . And each accurately describes at least some element. But the distinctiveness of each AC album makes the band difficult to pigeonhole. Portner says it’s partly the result of a conscious effort to treat each album as a separate entity. The band’s fluid line-up only accentuates the differences. For example, Portner and Lennox made 2004’s Sung Tongs (Fat Cat) without Weitz and Dibb. “We were interested to see if we could make a sonic record with just acoustic guitars and our voices. And then with Feels, it was like, ‘Well, we’re all playing together now; we can’t really have the same approach.’ Especially when you’re going to be playing live, you have to think about what four people can do or what two people can do or what’s realistic, and that changes things a lot.”

AC have been known to work backwards, playing almost exclusively new material at shows rather than songs from the album they’re touring behind. But Portner says that this tour — which features all four members — will be different. “It’s weird when all of a sudden you have a tag placed on you by people like ‘They only play new stuff live or they wear animal masks’ and stuff like that when it’s something we like to leave open. For people that have never seen the Feels songs live, I think it’s special because they’re different live than they are on the record. Depending on how the audience reacts and how we are feeling that night, the songs can change a lot.”

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