Tonight marks not only the night that Baltimore’s Animal Collective play a sold-out gig in the capital, but the release date of their ninth studio album Merriweather Post Pavillion, which has attracted a near-hysterical reception from the alternative music press. Purveyors of a mixture of freakish folk, experimental noise and swooning ambient melodies, Animal Collective finally seem to have reached their climax.
The band shuffle on in hoodies, jeans and head torches: this is no Crystal Castles Vice mag-sponsored night out, demonstrated swiftly by AC’s trademarks - dissonance, reverb, keening catcalls straight out of the jungle, sprawling deconstructionism and perfect harmonies. Animal Collective represent breadth, and the large-scale: they manage to sound like an explosion of Pollock-esque colours, bubbles bursting on the surface of the ocean, treading water in a disorientating dream and planets crashing into each other - big noises describing a big world.
Their heavy, heavy layers of discordant riffs and echoing vocals should not work together in any kind of scientific sense, but the presence of harmonies and dreamlike electronic sequences bring a beautiful sonic sense of whole to these disparate, potentially messy parts. On record their music often takes time to grow on you (though this doesn’t apply to their new album), but live, if approached with an open enough mind and patience to hear the full story, there is a stash of rewards on offer. One of these is their total avoidance of stasis - there is always a shifting in terms of structure, pace and syntax. Just when you stand back to take in a meandering movement, they move up a gear into something more feverish as the lights take on their own schizophrenic tempo. Mixing it up in this fashion has its dangers, but despite the many genres and styles the band evoke, they continuously manage to sound unequivocally like Animal Collective - serene, daring, noisy and wonderful.
Highlights are the old school ‘Slippi’, Strawberry Jam’s ‘Peacebone’ and ‘My Girls’ from the new album, laced with optimistic sweetness and written by Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) about his wife and daughters. There are two reasons to immerse yourself in this band: they will always, always surprise you - what other band play two songs at the same time and still make you feel like you’re in a widescreen, super-sized dream? - and they will never, ever sound like anyone else.
Image from DG Jones' photostream under the Creative Commons Licence. Animal Collective play again at the Forum on 24th March. Take along anyone who appreciates music - in fact, scrap that - take along anyone who appreciates anything.