Review Summary: Animal Collective, at an early stage, presents an stimulating album that is daring, spontaneous, and sweet.
Before they were officially known as Animal Collective, Avey Tare and Panda Bear came together and released what is now considered Animal Collective's first album. Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished is a spectacular introduction to this highly experimental group and their practically undefinable sound. This LP is an immersive, abrasive, and cryptic exploration of the unknown.
Classifying this album is a challenge in itself, but listening to Spirit They're Gone... is not the type of listen you will digest immediately. Personally, I had to listen to this album at least 5 or 6 times uninterrupted before I really grasped what this album was throwing at me. This is not a clean album by any means. The production is rough around the edges and the sounds can be somewhat jarring at times. There are many twists and turns embedded within each track that make listening to some of these songs feel like a roller coaster ride for someone who has severe motion sickness. But after riding this roller coaster a few times, I was hooked and wanted to experience it again and again.
"Spirit They've Vanished" launches the album with a droning ambience that brushes lightly against the delicate vocals. "April and the Phantom" starts with an abrasive intro before taking its form as a fast-paced and lovely tune. The drumming stands out on this track, coupled with supernatural background noises that elevate the song to a transcendental level. The untitled third track increases the intensity with grinding noises that will certainly wake up the unprepared listener. The pianos in the backdrop seem distant but powerful.
"Penny Dreadfuls" is a slower and slightly darker glimpse into the abyss. The song itself feels like gradually sinking into quick sand, but not resisting. "Chocolate Girl" picks up the pace once again with a particularly enchanting ebullience. It is easily the most sentimental song on this LP, and it thrives on its gracefulness. In addition, "La Rapet" takes the album in an interesting direction, throwing numerous sounds at the listener at once. However, the song is stripped of its complexities about two and a half minutes into the track. After a minute of guitar-driven simplicity, the tune returns to its original form before once again reverting to the slower and more polished style. As a result, the ending of the song is strong and satisfying.
The pinnacle of the album comes at the very end with the extensive and ambitious "Alvin Row". This song has everything it needs: sprawling electronics, dainty piano, and spontaneous drums. These elements capture the essence of Animal Collective and spotlight the talents of Avey Tare and Panda Bear. The song has two defined segments. The beginning section displays childlike purity and conveys sympathy in the midst of life's roughest obstacles, and the second half feels like a resolution of sort, giving both the song and the album closure.
In general, this album is far from being the band's most accessible work, but it is certainly a gratifying experience, especially when the listener dedicates time to exploring its vast soundscape. Every song fulfills a role on this LP and, therefore, not a moment is wasted. At this point in their career, the future was cryptic, yet the spark was undeniably present.
April and the Phantom
Spirit They've Vanished