Animal Collective
Campfire Songs


4.0
excellent

Review

by Alex Robertson STAFF
November 22nd, 2009 | 62 replies | 10,206 views


Release Date: 2003 | Tracklist

Review Summary: An overlooked gem by one of the most rewarding bands on the scene today.

There's a point in Animal Collective's 2003 release Campfire Songs where the band suddenly expands the context of their music and successfully blurs the line between refrain and ramble; harmony and heedlessness; the songs essentially transform from arbitrary acoustics into something much more. The album stops being mere "campfire songs" and suddenly presents the listener with a melody so charming and yet evidently premeditated that the listener immediately knows Animal Collective have become a band that have finally freed themselves from the impenetrable, flamboyant musical infantility of albums like 2001's Danse Manatee (or, to a lesser extent, 2002's live set Hollinndagain). This musical realization happens just about nine minutes into the ten-minute opener "Queen in My Pictures", when, instead of overzealously jumping to and from musical concepts one after another, the band realize that less is more, and apply this to their unique brand of psychedelic plainsongs, slowly speeding up repeated chords until second track "Doggy" (one of their best to date) finally takes over and introduces a melody, rhythms, and harmonies.

Which shows an important step in the band's career: they're finally making songs! "Doggy" itself blows right through its four-and-a-half minute length without any unnecessary detours or impulsive maneuvers, magnifying the strengths of the band and, if not getting rid of, simply tucking the weaknesses away under the sheets. Animal Collective are still an impulsive band on this album, but they finally feel like, well, a band, instead of a group of college kids who absolutely refuse to grow up in any way and feel the need to express this in their music. Not to say that it was all bad before this album came around: the group's debut (at the time only consisting of two members) Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished showed their knack for writing pop songs buried under layers of noise and fuzz, but its lyrical content and song structures were often a little up-in-the-air for the casual listener and connecting personally with the record was a challenge. Luckily, Campfire Songs is a more personal and intimate album, and, while their heads are still a little bit in the clouds, its lyrical content shows a scope far wider than the albums that preceded it. "Doggy" is one of the saddest songs the band has ever written, telling the heartbreaking story of a dog who breaks his neck falling from a tree. When the news is delivered that the dog will die ("He said 'Dave, hey, the doctor cannot save your dog'"), the listener truly feels sorry for the narrator (assumedly Dave Portner, a.k.a. Avey Tare of the band) and his situation.

But let's not kid ourselves here: Animal Collective are still a little freaky for the casual listener. Three of the album's five songs just about reach or surpass the 10-minute mark, slowly spinning melodies and musical motifs while gradually evolving into what some would call a "song". Sometimes, the songs (specifically "Moo Rah Rah Rain" and excellent album closer "De Soto De Son") prefer to get the melodies over with and leave the listener with a sense of slow degeneration, as if the song is slowly crumbling apart, the band doing the best they can to hold it together. The latter track has the most hummable melody on the album but also features some of the most nonsensical lyrics ("Color people say "oh no", 'cause they think it's contagious, marshmallow people say "oh yeah", 'cause they think it's a masterpiece"). One could potentially look into the lyrics as a meditation on different perspectives, but, given the band's history, it's very possible they're just singing about color and marshmallow people. Somehow, though, the song takes on an unexpected depth when one of the song's numerous detours ends as an intense full-band chant of "death...takes...time...". "Two Corvettes" also has an intense section of possessed vocals and flashing guitar strums, giving what is otherwise a pleasant, slightly boring track a piercing and slightly insane twist. And, as with "Two Corvettes", when the 11-minute beast "Moo Rah Rah Rain" chooses the path less travelled by, it makes all the difference, and for the better. By the time the 9-minute mark rolls by and the song seems to have overstayed its welcome, the band introduces a pastoral transition, with more chants, only this time the phrase is the up-for-interpretation "taking care of business".

The album as a whole keeps an effective atmospheric tension throughout its running length; its guitars-and-nature-sounds ambiance not only having a "pretty" tone to it, but also suggesting something slightly more menacing beneath the surface. The sound of trees rustling and rivers flowing adds to the effect, but it's in the airy guitars and laid back vocals that the album truly gets its atmosphere. So yes, Campfire Songs is a lot like sitting around a campfire singing some songs with a bunch of friends (incredibly talented friends, too!). But the album still has another quality to it; it feels like an album that showed that Animal Collective truly could be whatever they wanted to be. It wouldn't last all that long, but before they moved onto bigger things, the band were the best porch-sitting guitar strummers on the scene.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Staff Reviewer
November 22nd 2009



14989 Comments


for whatever reason this review was hard to write and i dont feel quite right about it but whatever



overlooked album

Kiran
Emeritus
November 22nd 2009



6000 Comments


surprised this hadn't been reviewed yet!

Digging: Spoon - They Want My Soul

barns
November 22nd 2009



79 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I like this review, good work.

"they're finally making songs!"

Disagree! Spirit has some Tongs on it.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
November 22nd 2009



14989 Comments


yeah, you are right and i kinda address that in one sentence


but after danse manatee / hollinndagain (note i actually like the latter) it seemed like they were gonna be tribal drums + noise/fuzz


but yea

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
November 22nd 2009



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

djdorama, add the cover s'il vous plait

Digging: Alvvays - Alvvays

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
November 22nd 2009



14989 Comments


i twied to

kitsch
November 22nd 2009



5107 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

good review.

one of my fav earlier ac releases. cant decide if hcti is better or not.

Kiran
Emeritus
November 22nd 2009



6000 Comments


hcti beats this for me but this is still great

Enotron
November 23rd 2009



7695 Comments


i guess i gotta check this out. nice review.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
January 20th 2010



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

here comes the indian is definitely better than this but this is rewarding too

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
January 20th 2010



14989 Comments


depends which mood i'm in tbqh. both are actually a little tough to sit through their more lengthy segments that dont keep me interested (for this, moo rah rah rain and two corvettes, for here comes the indian, some of the middle section of the album)

i'd say this edges here comes the indian out by a little bit most times, though, even if only for doggy and de soto de son

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
January 25th 2010



14989 Comments


so this got rereleased i guess

it's pretty tight guys get it

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
February 3rd 2010



14989 Comments


folk ac is the best ac.

although this is the worst of the four "folk" ac (or ac-related) releases (sung tongs, young prayer, this, prospect hummer)

the rest are 4.5 or above

this still rules though, "doggy" and "de soto de son" kill

Enotron
February 3rd 2010



7695 Comments


What category does Feels fall under? It's not like Strawberry or Merriweather. It's not like their "folky" stuff or their first three noisier records. Gosh darn, Feels may be the most unique record they put out!

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
April 2nd 2010



14989 Comments


de soto de son is one of my favorite ac songs. wish the rest was as good, though doggy is about at that level, and queen in my pictures isnt far behind. the other two...eh.

Kashmir09
April 25th 2010



772 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Going to get this now

Kashmir09
May 7th 2010



772 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This album has some pretty gorgeous moments in it no doubt. My favorite moment is the part you mentioned though, when Queen In MY Pictures starts gaining momentum near the end and segues wonderfully into Doggy, great stuff. My favorite on here though, and one of my favorite AC songs is definitely De Soto De Son; that song gives me the chills.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
October 18th 2010



14989 Comments


123 for both of those points

de soto de son is just fantastic

kanecooper
January 8th 2011



630 Comments


I actually really love this

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
January 8th 2011



14989 Comments


the last song is goooorgeous. the first two are great as well. middle is a bit of a stretch but goood stuff



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