Review Summary: And I didn't even like their first album that much.
In a way, Animal Collective's Danse Manatee
parallels Radiohead's Kid A
. After releasing an almost-universally loved album, the band experiments with electronics and create something truly unique, whether the audience likes it or not. However, there is a vital difference between the two albums: people actually liked Kid A
. Any Animal Collective fan has heard it before, but the fact remains: everyone hated Danse Manatee
. Pitchfork hated it. Fans hated it. The people who loved Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished
hated it. The people who hated Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished
hated it. However, aside from some hardcore fans, there's a notable exception: the band. Band member Geologist, who joined the Collective on this album, has said that it's possibly his favorite album by them, and band members have stated that they're proud of the album. But why did they have to make it such a mind-bogglingly disjointed album, essentially cutting off the listeners from whatever fun the band was having?
Being fair, there are a few points scattered along the album that allow the listener to hear this sort of masqueraded brilliance that only the band seemed to have witnessed: "Runnin the Round Ball," possibly the best track here, is an exciting romp, featuring dark guitars, thumping drums, and childish chants. It shows Animal Collective honing in their electronic skills to create something, well, listenable (unlike most of the album). However, the song barely reaches over two minutes, and could have been easily categorized as filler on any other, superior album.
"Essplode" is also a standout, and essentially does what Spirit
did best: create an engaging pop song buried under delicate layers of noise. However, the band take it a tad too far here, and instead of complementing the song, the high pitched oscillating noise they give the song only serves to distract from it. "Essplode" serves as a good example of why Danse Manatee
is so disappointing: instead of writing great songs (which they are, as seen on Spirit
, completely capable of), they let their tendency to abstract the songs with slabs of noise and fuzz take over.
Of course, even that's better when they're not even trying at all. "Penguin Penguin," entering after opener "A Manatee Dance," features Avey Tare's spiked vocals over seemingly random guitar and drum patterns. The song seems to have been the result of being commanded to "play as fast as you can". No surprises that, when combined with the usual high-pitched squeals, it's nigh unlistenable. A similar problem plagues "Meet the Light Child," which also features spontaneous percussion and noise rhythms. Unlike "Penguin Penguin," however, it goes on for almost nine minutes.
In the midst of experimental failures, another standout is "Ahhh Good Country," in which just about nothing happens over the course of eight minutes. Simply put, the results of nothing happening on Danse Manatee
are a lot more pleasant than the results of "music" being played on Danse Manatee
. "The Living Toys" also tries this, with less success. While "Ahhh Good Country" slowly builds up, "The Living Toys" wanders for about five minutes before suddenly hitting the same kind of random crescendos and rhythms that plagues "Penguin Penguin" and "Meet the Light Child".
So, because of their inability to control their own music, the band never hit the heights of Spirit
standouts "Chocolate Girl" and "April and the Phantom". However, some songs, at best, seem like B-sides from that album. The aforementioned "Essplode" carries a quite Spirit
-esque melody to it, while album closer "In The Singing Box," with its swinging rhythm and bouncing bassline, finally seems to signal a return to the superior poppy structures of their first album.
Undoubtably, the band aren't just giving lip service when suggesting this could be one of their best albums. It's understandable that the album could have been much fun to make. If only it was fun, at all, to listen to.