Review Summary: The manatee is a shy animal that stands its ground when approached and may lash out with headache-inducing bleeps when provoked. But it's got an awesome personality.
Animal Collective are seriously talented musicians. They are no joke. They have a mature grasp of the medium of sound when it comes to creating art. They are one of the greatest and most innovative bands of the 21st century. They have received a fair amount of recognition for their work; however, a few of their earlier experiments have gone astoundingly unnoticed, some even dismissed entirely for being too experimental for their own good. When Animal Collective say they are proud of creating Danse Manatee
, they are not joking. This album is notoriously the least favorite of many Animal Collective fans. Indeed it is the most inaccessible, but in many ways it is in fact a progression from the poppier Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished
. It takes sharp, patient ears to realize this.
Have you ever encountered an album that you did not "get" on the first listen? It sounded like crap and you had no idea what others were smoking when they hailed it as a masterpiece. But then, after three or four or five listens, you had that
listen where everything clicked. Danse Manatee
is like that; but instead of persisting because others had told me it was a great album, I had persisted because Animal Collective were my favorite band and had never disappointed me with any of their other releases.
is not a very friendly album. High-pitched bleeps akin to the less harsh drone sections of Prurient's Arrowhead
pervade every minute of it. The vocals and instruments are submerged in thick noise effects. Mind you, Geologist is going for nothing organic here; he means to create a dream land where music can sound equally gorgeous and transcendent if the anemone doesn't sting you. Thus, the manatee stings sharply anyone who expects his danse to sound accessible or in any way like reality. The stings, although predominantly in high-pitched bleeps, come in many different variations. "Penguin Penguin" stings with frantic noise explosions. "The Living Toys" and "Ahhh Good Country" work by scaring away any pop expectations with lengthy drones. Are these stings meant to be enjoyable? That's like asking if hardcore punk or drone is meant to be enjoyable.
has a mysterious charm both similar to other Animal Collective albums and very uniquely its own. Hinted through its style of vocals and drumming, it evokes an ominous tribal sort of enchantment only successfully paralleled in the live jams Hollinndagain
and Animal Crack Box
. It manages, however, to form its own environment: a mystical, ambient one made uncannily of abrasive, inhuman sounds. Despite the strange electronic material it's crafted with, it is a compelling adventure which has the power to drop jaws and stir up goosebumps upon further listening.
"Essplode" and "In the Singing Box" pleasantly showcase the band's pop talents, but whereas pop was flaunted unabashedly all over Spirit
, it hides subtly in Danse Manatee
. Consider "Meet the Light Child", a sprawling lullaby written in an entirely unconventional structure. A chirping bleep glides to the free-floating tune of Avey's vocals, and Panda's formless drumming swells and disperses. Four minutes in it dies into a near-silent meditation, and soon later a gentle music box harmonizes climactically. These graceful details are the kind often ignored upon first listening to any album.
The shorter tracks showcase the haunting tribal mood of Danse Manatee
while incorporating less high-pitched electronics. "Another White Singer" sounds like a ritual, ripe with handclaps and ghostly incantations. "Bad Crumbs" sounds gloomier, contrasting Avey's soft melody ("I've gone and lost a day . . .") with ominous incomprehensible groans. "Throwin' the Round Ball" is simultaneously cutesy and eerie, sounding equally like a nursery rhyme and a satanic prayer.
"The Living Toys" and "Ahhh Good Country" are psychedelic drone expeditions into the stranger aspects of the album. High-pitched electronic drones shift from soft wails to loud vibrations while Avey chants incomprehensible lyrics in the background. Panda's cathartic improvisational percussion compliments perfectly the tranquility of the drones. Dispersed throughout the background of "Ahh Good Country" are the sounds of chanting children (Avey and Panda?), further expanding on the childlike eerieness found in the preceding track.
Few moments on this album disappoint, but these moments do exist. The Hollinndagain
version of "Lablakely Dress" is about a hundred times better. The robotic vibrato effect on Avey's vocals works nicely with the style of the album and doesn't annoy too much, but the song fails to reach any sort of climax the way it does on Hollinndagain
. However, seeing as the live album came out after Danse Manatee
, the comparison should only be made to recommend Hollinndagain
rather than criticize Danse Manatee
On their debut Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished
, Animal Collective show us they can make pop songs and bury them under fancy waves of static, but on the misunderstood follow-up Danse Manatee
they move past that gimmick. In the summer between these two albums, something happened to Animal Collective that made them want to experiment more; something happened that also made them acquire their signature Animal sound. Danse Manatee
is a dense and ambitious album not to be taken lightly; it demands several listens before it can be appreciated fully. It may not be for everyone, but such challenging music tends to be the kind that rewards listeners more in the long run.