Animal Collective

I remember driving down Pacific Coast Highway with my dad, listening to Merriweather Post Pavilion, when he suddenly asked why Animal Collective repeat themselves so much. I was driving and looking straight ahead at the road, so we didn’t make eye contact. My dad is intelligent and constantly takes in a lot of information, but he chooses very particular things to inquire about, especially within spheres of knowledge we don’t share.

So I gave him the response you give people who ask about Minimalism: The repetition allows you to, in a sense, slow down. Stop time. Really visit with the piece of music, hear a phrase change and mutate and, when you get down to it, not repeat itself. Every time and place you hear something, it’s slightly different, and as better brains on music have put it, repetition lets you rotate a piece of music in front of you as if it were a three-dimensional object. You see more of its sides.

But his silence was loud. Since then I’ve begun to think I may have been a bit off: Animal Collective use repetition in spite of themselves, for fear of themselves. It’s the repetition of mania, joy, childhood, even a willed primitivism. It sounds stuck, anxious, or distracted — not cognizant, distant, or critically disinterested. And whatever’s going on there, the repetition musically (the looping of samples, the pounding of the same drum, the harping on one drone, the mantra-making of one yelp) is one of the only pervading elements of their entire catalogue. Repetition happens in direct opposition to the shapeshifting between albums, and it becomes a brief respite from a kind of bloodlust for newness in their music.

Animal Collective named an album for packets of strawberry jam found on airplanes. They coordinated Transverse Temporal Gyrus in the atrium of the Guggenheim Museum in 2010. When a reviewer partially leaked an album in 2007, Panda Bear responded not with disdain, but with, “Put up those other three songs, man, pronto.” No stake is too small or too large for the band to tackle with their work, and they seem genuinely fascinated by everything. The excellent trajectory of their albums reflects that appreciation of all music, all sound, and all progress as doers in a world of artists often unwilling to break with themselves, much less tradition.

A good friend of mine laments that Animal Collective doesn’t have an album that’s near-perfect, and though I’d disagree, I understand where he’s coming from. They’ve offered nothing that aggregates the particular leaps of each record thus far — even Merriweather doesn’t quite fit that mold. But for me, it’s absolutely monumental that after 12 years under layers of synthesizer forestry and blood-boiling screaming, the band at the very least never, ever repeats themselves.

10. “Chores” (from Strawberry Jam, 2007)

“Chores” bails in with a hearty wail, transitioning to a blazing, exuberant stomp centered around work that needs to be done. Its style evidences Animal Collective’s hefty debt to Appalachian music, spirituals, and other relics of a wilder American South, not coincidentally during a song about labor. Avey Tare sings about the basic, but somehow immensely satisfying, notion of having things to get done: having something to busy yourself with, and the satisfaction that you’re thoroughly attacking a to-do list before you relax. But “Chores” digs deeper; where a predictably off-kilter pop group might offer the fun romp and a cooperative chorus, Animal Collective gets psychotically looped into the words “If I” between each verse, leaving us lost like the protagonist. He’s not really looking for the simple joys of work, it seems; the song slows down about halfway through, after the revelation that the singer, “only want[s] the time / to do one thing that I like / I want to get so stoned / And take a walk out in the light drizzle.” Afterward, “Chores” becomes a brooding plodder (especially after all that fun), and its profundity comes from our not knowing whether the end is a literalization of that happy walk in the rain, or a warning to remain on task.

9. “Alvin Row” (from Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, 2000)

This strange behemoth belongs to young Avey Tare and Panda Bear alone, but distinctly speaks to the ability of the group as a whole and in parts. “Alvin Row” closes Animal Collective’s first release, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished (even though only two of them participated, the group always credits their various collaborations to the Collective), but it seems to open a whole spectrum of worlds. Panda Bear revels in the freedom and brushstrokes of avant-garde jazz, and Avey Tare coaxes as much Chopin as “Piano Man” from his instrument, with a full three minutes devoted to a dreamy dance-anthem ending and no rationale in sight. It’s absolutely delightful throughout, and introduces us to two members of a group that are prepared to lead us through challenging experiments in aural capacity, occasionally disguised as pop music.

8. “Leaf House” (from Sung Tongs, 2004)

The nature of collectivity within Animal Collective extends to every facet of their presence: Not only are they comfortable recombining personnel on each album, but they carve out a kind of gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork), in which everything from album art to stage design to performance style resonate together. Their sometimes cryptic, sometimes generous online presence does not escape the totality; the band members have been known to release mixes stuffed with songs that influence their music or intelligently situate themselves in a broader musical context during interviews with blogs. “Leaf House” moves with Southeast Asian and Polynesian sway, notable on Panda Bear’s mixes from up to several years ago, and apparent even on a Geologist mix meant to elucidate Centipede Hz’s recording style. Its pantheistic, revelatory pentatonics seem to begin breathing and slowly awaken us to Sung Tongs, in which Animal Collective find themselves outside, wandering through nature, in a dark but ultimately thrilling jungle of impossible fauna (rabbits, tigers, eagles, etc.). The lyrics are few — which makes the vocal exercises of the song deeply animalistic and visceral — and it doesn’t hurt that they read like a William Carlos Williams poem.

7. “Prospect Hummer” (from Prospect Hummer, 2005)

Prospect Hummer is gorgeous: a little EP with the near-forgotten folk underdog Vashti Bunyan, whom the group befriended while on tour. For a tiny record, it absolutely brims with goodness, including harmonies, tones, and sentiments borrowed from the ’60s, and a lot of ambience and freedom. The title track doesn’t sound much like Animal Collective, to the extent anything sounds like Animal Collective; I’d sooner attribute it to Pentangle. But so much joy inhabits the collaboration: The beat whispers in and out like a prayer, and the group-plus-Bunyan seems to reach out of the record and gather us into its warmth.

6. “College” (from Sung Tongs, 2004)

Unless you’re a pretty serious Animal Collective fan, you probably don’t remember this one. It’s a 53-second gem on 2004′s Sung Tongs, with deep Beach Boys harmonies and a single lyric, labored through at the end: “You don’t have to go to college.” The song always had a beautiful simplicity for me. A friend put it on during a particularly distraught moment during my own time at college and said, “This always helped.” Rather unbelievably, it worked, and I never forgot why I was there. To this day, I consider it a little gift to everyone around the age of 19, collegiate or otherwise.

5. “Guys Eyes” (from Merriweather Post Pavilion, 2009)

“Guys Eyes” seems so simple at first, but the surf-like paean to monogamous restraint twists in on itself so many times during its four and a half minutes that it can feel like one continuous sound in retrospect. At certain points, three discreet vocal arrangements operate over one another, and a clicking, mechanized drum phrase turns the crank of the song’s machinery. The automation of the sampling and rephrasing of repeated bars (prevalent on Merriweather) are some of the only reminders of the band’s previous stylistic tinkerings, though the repetition on Sung Tongs and Strawberry Jam were (or at least felt like) much more of the manic, analog variety. And unlike the past, the group isn’t employing narrative here: It’s perspective. Where Animal Collective was for years incredibly gifted at releasing you in an exotic sonic locale and letting you play around in fantastic natural wonderlands, “Guys Eyes” signals an added focus, at least for Merriweather, to the human mind and its illusory obsessions. The monumentality of the song — and the album, really — comes from the realism of a conscious ebb and flow: like a wave churning at a shore, we hear both fluid, hollow insecurity and rocky crashes of determination.

4. “Fickle Cycle” (from Grass EP, 2004)

Released with the Feels single “Grass” and the Steve Reich-y “Must Be A Treeman,” “Fickle Cycle” is what a boxing announcer would call a good, clean fight: That is, a song that appears accessible and fun, offered by an (at the time of Feels) otherwise quite difficult band as a sportsmanlike concession. “Here. Take this.” But like a fighter, the band has a way of elusively denying pleasure and applying pain. Enjoy the tropical guitar harmonies, four-on-the-floor jauntiness, and immediately singable hook: They are gifts, withdrawn halfway through and interrupted by what sounds a hell of a lot like the theme song for an unfortunate candy from the 1990s. “Fickle Cycle” ends in a repeated slamming of drums, qualified with a loud group chant of the song’s title. Animal Collective loves this trick: giving us a taste of something warm and comprehensible, and then throwing in a stew of aesthetic or structural affronts that upset the taste we’ve cultivated. But having both the fun and the difficult makes the band a pleasure, and we eventually equalize, like the buzzing string reverberation at the end of the song.

3. “In The Flowers” (from Merriweather Post Pavilion, 2009)

“If I could just leave my body for a night.” The pause between “body” and “for” is frightening, delicious, even extravagant. The daydream drops us from an ethereal two-and-half-minute introduction into an earthquake of drums and cymbals, and in a sense, into a new Animal Collective. Though the group is not one to cater to expectations, they have proven intelligent listeners, extremely sensitive to what opens and what closes a record, as good bands have always been. As it passes from a synthesizer-frying tribal frenzy to a four-on-the-floor electronic bass beat, the band lets us know that while Deakin is absent, they’re going to try something else. It’s the perfect opener, introducing themes as dutifully as if it preceded Bach variations, and sonically ushering you “In The Flowers,” as it were. Into the lush, beat-heavy Animal Collective of Merriweather Post Pavilion.

2. “Brother Sport” (from Merriweather Post Pavilion, 2009)

So much has already been made of the lyrical content of Merriweather’s closer. The yogic repetition of the song’s title unravels the clever inversion of “support your brother” — the song was written by Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) in encouragement of his brother, after their father’s death — and Panda Bear weaves light admonishment with nearly religious inspiration in the tangled words. The conspiracies on Collected Animals, long the AnCo superfan forum, go on for pages, and with the exception of key lines, it is very hard to hear what Panda Bear is saying. But with “Brother Sport,” Animal Collective leaves us a gargantuan assemblage. The bowels of American mountain music spew a geyser of 1990s house polyrhythms, with the added bump and positivity of dance-pop of the era, particularly Chumbawamba and anything else you heard at the roller rink. In an era of gang-like record labels and oversized music personalities, this song is still one of the most refreshing and invigorating pieces of music you can listen to. It grooves so hard, incontrovertibly, and more than that, offers the elemental love of brotherhood — to Panda Bear’s brother Matt, whose name the band exclaims in unison throughout the song, and to us. It’s pretty much impossible not to “open up your throat,” and lose your mind on the dance floor to this one.

1. “The Purple Bottle (Stevie Wonder Version)” (single, 2005)

Originally intended to be the version on Feels, the “Stevie Wonder Version” (sometimes “Stevie Wonder Mix”) of “The Purple Bottle” was instead released later as a single due to copyright complications. Instead of a floating choral section occupying a significant midsection of the piece, the group employs a slightly distorted chorus from Stevie’s famous “I Just Called to Say I Love You”: “I just called to say I like you / I just called to wonder if you care.” The song encompasses the true giddiness of love: unbridled ecstasy and the delicate fear of whether you’ve found the right person. Avey Tare’s brilliant conflation of that high with an actual dosed high (from a purple bottle) generates throughout the song an exuberantly overfueled heartbeat, palpable in the repeated interruption of the song’s glee by new sections and the manic coda’s insistence that, “you get that WOOOO! / get that WOOOO!” Though they change the lyrics slightly, the band’s inclusion of the phone call from Stevie’s hit still borrows the terror of distance from the person you love, checked only by recognitions of deep spiritual proximity: “Sometimes you’re quiet, and sometimes I’m quiet / Hallelujah!”

Comments (195)
  1. I still think Monkey Riches off of Centipede Hz is one of the best AnCo songs

  2. Purple bottle was the first song I heard of theirs. Love it!

  3. This is the true best of list….

    01.We Tigers
    02.Safer
    03.Brothersport
    04.Alvin Row
    05.Fireworks
    06.What Would I Want? Sky?
    07.Did You See the Words
    08.Slippi
    09.Who Could Win A Rabbit
    10.Doggy

  4. Why does Stereogum insist on all these Top Whatever lists? They’re pointless, especially with bands like Animal Collective.

  5. Donde es Peacebone?

  6. Peacebone. Enough said.

  7. in no special order…

    Winters Love
    Leaf House
    Purple Bottle
    What Do I Want? Sky
    Grass
    Lion In A Coma
    Tikwid
    My Girls
    Banshee Beat
    Winter Wonderland

  8. “What Would I Want? Sky”
    “Peacebone”
    “Kids on Holiday”
    “Summertime Clothes”
    “Turn Into Something”
    “My Girls”

    Might be included, possibly.

    How about just adding an “Honorable Mention” section where you can put the AWESOME songs that people know and love but contrarianism won’t let you mention. SUM MER TIM E CLO THES and MY GIRL S are code for some possible inclusions on that list.

    I do love “Kids on Holiday”

  9. BANSHEE BEAT ! ! that song pretty much sums up why i love AC so much

  10. Oh no you didn’t! I honestly can’t agree with this list less. Of course I’m probably way off according to the next guy. Here is mine:

    10. Guys Eyes
    9. Grass
    8. For Reverend Green
    7. Also Frightened
    6. Fireworks
    5. Bluish
    4. Peacebone
    3. The Purple Bottle
    2. Winter’s Love
    1. Banshee Beat

    • Honorable mentions: Summertime Clothes, What Would I Want Sky?, Winter Wonderland, My Girls, Did You See The Words

    • a good list! actually “Guys Eyes” is probably my fave track off MPP in the long-term, that album was a great shock to me at first but now I keep coming back much more to their older stuff which Feels more timeless to me now (also maybe due to the fact that the unique sound MPP brought quickly became standard?) and I loved “My Girls”, but much more at a gig that preceded the album, it didn”t feel so MGMT-straighforward.

      • “MGMT-straightforward”? Have you listened to Congratulations?
        Well, then again, I guess nearly anything compared to animal collective would sound straightforward. But still, that’s not a word I’d use to describe MGMT ( well except their singles like kids, time to pretend, electric feel, etc.)

  11. The fact “Chores” was the only track included of Strawberry Jam is disappointing to say the least. Couldn’t you just make this list with all of Strawberry Jam, “Street Flash,” “Did You See The Words,” “Grass” and a couple of the better MPP tracks and call it a day? I guess that would be too many songs for ’10 best’ list, so I’ll give this a shot. In no particular order:

    Peacebone
    Unsolved Mysteries
    For Reverend Green
    Fireworks
    Street Flash
    Did You See The Words?
    Grass
    Leaf House
    Bluish
    What Would I Want? Sky

    Er… and Guys Eyes… and Water Curses… and My Girls… and No More Runnin’… Damn it, this IS hard.

  12. Winters Love

  13. First off, I think it’s a testament to how good they’ve been for so long that people have so many different suggestions.
    Secondly, it’s ok to like Fireworks and My Girls. Just because it’s popular doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t good. That also works in reverse, it’s totally cool to not like either song. Just don’t like them because of the music, not because you feel you have to.
    Anywho…
    1. Grass
    2. Winters Love
    3. Summertime Clothes
    4. What Would I Want? Sky
    5. It’s You
    6. Fireworks
    7. Loch Raven
    8. Water Curses
    9. Guys Eyes
    10. I Remember Learning How To Dive

    But that’s just me

    • Absolutely.

      It was obvious most people would have somewhat different opinions of what are their best songs.

      I can only think of Radiohead in the last 20 years to have released such a ridiculously great number of excellent songs while at the same time poking in various genres.
      I personally think anco have even surpassed them.

    • I’m surprised more lists in the comments don’t include “What Would I Want? Sky.” I love that song and was really hoping Centipede Hz would be more in that vein. I’d be interested to hear what a more sample-heavy Animal Collective sounded like.

  14. So cool to see “Fickle Cycle” on this list; that song is comprised of all the things that make the band’s music so great (the catchy vocals, that soothing piece of ambiance, the surprise gushes of noise). Including “Chores” is a bit surprising (and the article incorrectly states that it is sung by Avey Tare) but to each his own…

    If I had to make a top ten, it would probably look a little like this…

    -Banshee Beat
    -Brother Sport
    -Did You See the Words
    -Essplode
    -Fickle Cycle
    -Grass
    -Kids On Holiday
    -The Purple Bottle
    -Safer
    -Slippi

  15. Hey guys, what happened to the comment parties we used to have when albums leaked (like whether intended by the band or not)? Like, Shields is totally out there in the world for everyone’s listening pleasure. Oh, and My Girls.

  16. Not enough Animal Collective.

  17. I think overall there is not enough Feels in this list.

  18. This post blissfully reminds me of how much incredible music Animal Collective has put into the world. And I am thankful for that.

    Also, HEY LIGHT? AM I RIGHT?

  19. Ok, my last post on this page…but am I the only one that had no idea Avey got divorced from Kría Brekkan? I don’t evenn care much about his personal life but I find it interesting that they did that record together and when they get divorced, it’s not covered in outlets like this. Or maybe it was and I missed it?

  20. Winters Love!

    Also: Did You See The Words and Banshee Beat.

    A Top 10 for AnCo is impossible though.

  21. 10 daily routine (its outro is magnificient)
    9 #1 (distorted vocals contrasted by wordless harmonies) / cuckoo cuckoo (whirling vocals,debris drummings/cymbals)
    9 what would i want sky (nice progression)
    8 street flash (containing one of the best avey tare’s cathartic screams)
    7 winter wonder land (sweet sounds and percussion)
    6 leaf house (it brings out my inner caveman)
    5 for reverend green (fascinating, i swear i heard avey singing “even vegetarian wins weight contest”)
    4 brothersport (yeah!)
    3 fireworks (underwater guitar riff, great geologist beat n the “i’ve been eating with a good friend…” part is 1 of my favourite)
    2 loch raven (makes me wanna dive in a mysterious loch)
    1 grass (the epitome of catharsis + harmonies)

  22. My boyfriend sings Brothersport while I blow him.

    Just kidding, no one will date me.

    Seriously though, my filthy mind always thinks of fellatio when they sing “open up your throat.”

  23. water curses my fave!

  24. All of the songs I like but AnCo are not on here. Sadness. I must like the 10 worst.

  25. My Top AnCo songs:
    1. All of them

  26. April and the Phantom

  27. went to the comments before reading the article. Knew there’d be a figurative shitstorm.

  28. Glad that Chores made it : that really loud bird sample at 2min, which you don’t hear because all the music flows so well. This is the real Animal Collective magic !

  29. Who could win a rabbit. hands down BEST song and BEST video.

  30. I like the inclusion of something like “Alvin Row,” but to not have: “What Would I Want, Sky?” “My Girls,” or “Fireworks,” is hard to justify. I know we all have our own opinions, but its hard to think most AC fans wouldn’t have at least one of those songs in their Top 10.

  31. Might as well just put New Town Burnout at #1…

  32. Cuckoo Cuckoo, and Fireworks.

  33. “May I bang on this?”

  34. ‘Purple Bottle’ as with most of the choices are not even close to favourites. Shocked to see a ‘Grass’ cut in there. I think that’s there most in-essential release. Well, that or any of the singles with remixes. Do they have a single decent remix?

    Prospect Hummer is great from start to finish. I’d assume going in that ‘Kids on Holiday’ or ‘Winters Love’ would be near the top.

    I’d rather see a silly list of ‘best’ to ‘worst’ albums. ‘Best’ Song choices, as somebody mentioned, especially with a band like this are all personal.

  35. What’s more ambitious then trying to countdown the “best” Animal Collective songs is the ordeal trying to cram the said countdown in 10 slots.

  36. I am positive that anyone trying to come up with a list of their best songs in a certain order will not be able to reproduce the same list of songs depending on their mood of the moment.

    When i first discovered them Peacebone was my favourite song of theirs. Now its nowhere the top of my list.
    And imho, purple bottle (including the stevie wonder version), while good, should be nowhere near their top songs. But its an interesting list, buti don’t think it represents most people’s opinion, whether they are casual anco listeners or serious fans.

    But, but… Taste anyone?? Seems like taste is rarely mentioned in their top song lists.

    Here goes:

    1 brothersport
    2 winters love
    3 we tigers
    4 grass
    5 #1
    6 who could win a rabbit
    7 loch raven
    8 did you see the worlds
    9 for reverend green
    10 in the flowers

    annnnnnddd it goes on….
    11 my girls
    12 taste
    13 alvin row
    14 turn into something
    15 banshee beat
    16 college
    17 wwiw?s
    18 daffy duck
    19 i think i can
    20 bluish
    21 doggy
    22 summertime clothes
    23 peacebone
    24 leaf house
    25 visiting friends
    26 derek
    27 chores

  37. Has nobody any love for ‘Derek’? It was the first Animal Collective song I fell in love with.

  38. correction in the chores blerb- panda is def lead vocalist avey doesnt do much of the singing on that track, chores is a panda jam- he did it solo a lot and all that- just sayin’

    i have a friend who thought deakin sang on the whole new centipede hz… people confuse who’s singing in this band all the time but i think it’s pretty easy to tell if youre an avid listener

    i think this list needed kids on holiday

  39. 1. Fireworks
    2. Guys Eyes
    3. The Purple Bottle
    4. Brother Sport
    5. Did You See the Words
    6. Banshee Beat
    7. For Reverend Green
    8. My Girls
    9. What Would I Want? Sky
    10. Derek

    It’s surprising to me that most of my favorite songs are from Feels yet none of them are from Sung Tongs.

  40. when will the animal collective features END? WHEN?

  41. Grass
    Brother Sport
    For Reverend Green

    All I know is that these are my three favourite Animal Collective songs.

  42. Spirit They’re Gone has 10 tracks. THAT WAS EASY

  43. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  44. why not.

    10. No More Runnin’
    9. Purple Bottle
    8. Fireworks
    7. Fickle Cycle
    6. Leaf House
    5. In the Flowers
    4. Did You See the Word?
    3. Cuckoo Cuckoo
    2. Cobwebs
    1. What Would I Want? Sky

  45. 10. No More Runnin’
    9. Purple Bottle
    8. Fireworks
    7. Fickle Cycle
    6. Leaf House
    5. In the Flowers
    4. Did You See the Word?
    3. Cuckoo Cuckoo
    2. Cobwebs
    1. What Would I Want? Sky

  46. for reverend green should be on that top 10 list..

  47. What Would I Want? Sky is probably my most loved.

  48. What would i want? Sky without a doubt…. that song is on it’s own level euphoric bliss.

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