Previous Animal Collective records were shapeless mush, but as least they were colourful mush. The kooky experimental band’s 11th album, ‘Tangerine Reef’, is only countless shades of grey. This is musical porridge, a thin gruel ladled over 13 tasteless tracks that you have to force down, one after the other, endlessly, until you’ve nearly forgotten that music is meant to be fun. This is not simply a chore; it’s an endurance test. Animal Collective, please excuse me from the table.
Formed in New York in 2003, the group has amassed diehard fans who may consume this ‘audio-visual album’ (chilling words) on musical merits alone, or with its admittedly more colourful accompanying full-length video, which depicts coral reef flickering eerily in the darkened depths of the ocean (it’ll appear on the band’s website on August 17). Produced alongside Coral Morphologic, Miami-based videographers who capture imagery of coral reef, the project commemorates 2018 International Year of the Reef, an initiative designed to raise awareness of the dangers faced by marine life. By the end of its relentlessly boring sonic onslaught, you may be the one that feels like an endangered species.
It’s almost 10 years since psychedelic explorers Animal Collective released ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, the surprise smash that contained the fantastic, whirling, emotional single ‘My Girls’ and, as a whole, brought their brand of shifting psychedelia into sharper focus than before. That record was a palatable combination of abstract soundscapes and recognisable pop music tropes, so – inevitably – the group followed up with 2012’s abrasive, disjointed ‘Centipede Hz’. In 2015, the collective released ‘FloriDada’, a singularly annoying track – listening to it was like being trapped in an episode of the nightmarish children’s TV show Lazy Town – that indicated just how far they’d disappeared up their own arses. You’d need to strap on a pair of goggles and a highly durable wetsuit to retrieve them.
Compared to ‘Tangerine Reef’, though, that 2015 single sounded like ABBA. This is the first Animal Collective record not to feature founding figure Panda Bear, whose solo albums are blissed-out and exuberant. It burbles away in the background – a wash of synth here, a bloopy sound effect there – and refuses to demean itself with anything crass like a beat or discernible tune. At it’s worst, there’s ‘Hip Sponge’, hooked around the breathless, atonal chant of “The time is now / Now is the time”. At it’s best, there’s ‘Airpipe (To a New Transition)’, on which a sitar refrain warps around hissing digital feedback – but even that’s got a stupid name.
In 2010, the band unveiled ‘ODDSAC’, their first foray into audio-visual (brrr!) entertainment. That project’s fizzing, punked-up electronic sounds bounced off nonsensical, dramatic imagery (for instance: a woman frantically slathering black paint across a wall) that could have been rescued from David Lynch’s cutting room floor. This one was originally an art piece performed live at the Borscht Film Festival in Miami, with attendees absorbing the sound and images simultaneously. Divorced of that context, it belongs only in the sea.