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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.”

Feels finds the band manipulating sound in novel ways, using field recordings, feedback, and electronic effects in addition to guitar, autoharp, and piano and continuing to eschew traditional pop-song structure. There’s nothing on the album that could be called a verse or a chorus. Yet it’s also their most accessible release. Just don’t mention that to Portner. “That word really bothers us. It’s something that I can’t see any musician ever using. For us it isn’t like ‘We’re making this really catchy pop record,’ because to us all of our records are like that. We really like melodies and we like pop music and that’s just an element that’s always there.” He’s right: pop melodies have always bubbled just beneath the surface of AC’s music. But on Feels they surface in a way that’s bringing more and more people into the Animal Collective fold. The disc combines formal and sonic inventiveness with memorable melodies — no mean feat. The rhythmic catchiness and complexity of “The Purple Bottle” and “Banshee Beat” move body and mind; you’re so busy absorbing all the ambient sounds swirling around the room or between your headphones, you don’t even notice that your legs are getting tired from bouncing to the polyrhythmic beats.

Animal Collective have referred to Feels as their “love record,” and Portner explains that the lyrics, most of which he wrote, have to do with relationships. But he says the term also refers to the band’s deep friendship and their appreciation of being able to make music together even though Portner and Dibb live in New York, Weitz lives in DC, and Lennox lives in Lisbon. “It just becomes more intense to get together now and play, more special. We say that because of the emotions that are involved in us all playing together. It’s making us happy to be able to play together.”

Animal Collective + First Nation | Avalon, 15 Lansdowne Street, Boston | Feb 21 | 617.228.6000

  Topics: Music Features , Dave Portner , Animal Collective , Entertainment ,  More more >
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