Review Summary: Intimate pop weirdness
What appeals to me most about Animal Collective
is their commitment to exploring challenging or inaccessible sounds combined with their insistence on keeping one foot in the world of pop. They can let loose, indulging in their pop sensibility without being jejune, and they can roll their sleeves up, satisfying their harsher urges without being obtuse.
This idea shows up throughout Sung Tongs, the poppiest songs being the rambunctious "Who Could Win a Rabbit" with its delightful texture and restless shifts in time signatures, "We Tigers" with its ritual drums and whoops and hollers, and "Winter's Love," which really delivers after a delicate, reverent intro. On the other side of the spectrum, we have the hypnotic drone of "Visiting Friends," the plodding "Whaddit I Done," the jagged "Mouth Wooed Her," and the kaleidoscopic "The Softest Voice." The album is not so cleanly segregated, of course, but some tracks certainly lean one way more than the other.
Sung Tongs lives up to Animal Collective's game plan of juxtaposition of pop and inaccessibility, but it also establishes its own unique duality by being warmly intimate while also being universal. The music itself, acoustic and agreeable, is littered with untempered shouts and evokes vivid and simple nostalgia. Paired with this feeling, however, is what gives the album its maturity and granularity, and is what keeps it from being a pointless exercise in vacuous nostalgia: with every bit of sentimentality comes a counterpoint of ambiguity or weirdness, which is something that accompanies childhood memories for many people. We are all warmed by our reflection, but certain parts of our memory are obscured, mired in confusion, or simply absent.
Lyrically, the album does a similar balancing act: it gives listeners a concrete impression, making mental traction and connection possible, but it is never simple enough for a single interpretation to rise to the top, at least without a shade of ambiguity. Sung Tongs's achievement is pairing plainly pleasing intimacy and honest bits of murkiness with a catharsis too juvenile and pure to be anything but completely universal. Sung Tongs is an impression of childhood -- it's completely personal, but shades of it are shared by all mankind.
Most importantly, Sung Tongs is musically successful by virtue of its diversity, providing wintery drones that make themselves at home in the listener's head, as well as melodies that beg to be accompanied by the listener's hum, whistle, or shout.