Animal Collective's Moment In Time

By: Andrew Bruss

Animal Collective by Takahiro Imamura
The role of a music journalist often requires using language to describe the sounds of artists who don't easily lend themselves to description, and few bands embody this challenge like Animal Collective. Oftentimes, they don't even sound like Animal Collective. Their albums can dislodge our sense of time and context, often seeming completely independent of earlier works. And any attempt to categorize them carries with it the understanding that no matter how close you come, you're still off the mark. Their fans' pseudo-religious intensity is unrivaled outside of the jam scene and their status as cult rockers is firmly in place.

But it appears that AC's cult status may be on the decline after their new release, Merriweather Post Pavilion (released January 20 on Domino Records, you can read our review here). Although critics called their last album, 2007's Strawberry Jam, their "pop album," it seems as though Merriweather has the fluidity, and more importantly, the accessibility to bring a whole new demographic of mainstream listeners into the Animal Collective universe.

While overseas, supporting Merriweather, Geologist, born Brian Weitz, got on the phone with JamBase to talk about their new release, their live show and what's slated for the future.

Even though Merriweather was just weeks away from its release at the time of our conversation, the first topic of discussion was the highly anticipated "visual album" that Animal Collective has been working on since before they recorded Strawberry Jam.

"We sort of work on it during our breaks on supporting Merriweather," says Weitz. "It's just a really learn-as-you-go process for us. There's no overseeing technical producer doing the technical work for us; we're doing it ourselves. The director doing the visuals knows what he's doing, but we're the ones scoring it. We're trying to work on the music and the visuals as simultaneously as possible. He also does stuff with the band Black Dice, so we try to work on it when we have time."

As blown away as Collective fans may eventually be by this project, you can count on some being disappointed by the fact that they probably won't have the opportunity to hear any of the music off the "visual album" in a live setting.

Animal Collective
"Now, we're in a unique situation where it's the first time we're working on a batch of material that's purely for a studio project and not intended to be performed live," Weitz says. "We don't see the visuals and music as being separate. A live performance of screening the film while we play live also wouldn't work because every scene has different instrumentation."

Weitz explained that they usually record an album and then when they perform live they start playing new material they're working on for the next album. It's an unconventional approach to developing material that has the potential to throw off fans expecting to find album tracks on a setlist. This production method underscores the band's emphasis on progression. With Animal Collective, it often seems as though anything in the present might as well be a thing of the past, an attitude that justifies the impression by many diehard fans that if you blink you might miss something.

However, at the moment, Animal Collective seems to enjoy living in the present. "Right now we're still playing a similar set, still enjoying playing the Merriweather songs and stuff like that. So, people won't get a taste of the next project until this thing is officially released on DVD, or if we do a screening tour where we just show it at different theatres and places," Weitz says.

As for the buzz about Animal Collective breaking into the mainstream, Weitz shrugs these suggestions off.

"Since Sung Tongs [2004], people have been saying, 'This is the pop record,' or whatever, and we totally understand why it comes across that way," offers Weitz. "[Merriweather is] definitely easier to swallow. To us, it sort of feels like a natural progression. It's hard for me to say how an outside listener would see them, but [the roots of today's sound] go way back to the early stuff, in the early 2000s that was more chaotic and maybe challenging to the average listener. It still has pop songs and structure within it, it's just buried beneath this production we were feeling at the time that was a lot more harsh and chaotic and maybe disjointed. It was a reflection of our lives and mental states at the time, and we always wanted our music to be really personal to that moment in time."

Continue reading for more on Animal Collective...

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