Review Summary: Deceptively pretty.
Animal Collective are practically known for conjuring up odd music. Sometimes it's two friends in a basement tinkering with drums and electronics with healthy injections of noise. A few years later, it could be very serene guitar playing, and in another short period of time, they're making well-engorged psyched-out pop music with impressive attention to detail. The duo/trio/quartet are always deliberately switching out recording methods, and the logic that fuels their songwriting matures with time. Calling any release from them 'surely the weirdest thing they've done to date' is almost a disservice to the rest of their career. However, in every sense of the word, Tangerine Reef
is the Animal Collective album that has been perplexing listeners the most. It is their second "audiovisual album" since 2010, although not really, since the band doesn't seem to have a problem with the music being released on its lonesome. On top of this, the album has quite a lot to do with an Animal Collective one-off performance last year, called Coral Orgy.
It appears that Tangerine Reef
, at heart, is a studio rendition of that concert. That information can provide some context as to why this whole album sounds like a live recording. Not a moment of silence permeates the borders between any two tracks, and although there might be some obvious fading to blend two segments together, all 52 minutes are meant to be digested in one sitting. Letting the music engulf your ears and the underwater visuals invade your eyes might be easier if there happened to be more substance in either format, though. The visuals, despite their allure, are simply pieces of breathtaking footage meant to accompany the vaguely-aquatic music. Adding to how hollow the experience is, the music barely contains any semblence of rhythm. Chunks of space are filled with heavily effected guitar noodling and electronic toying that sound equally disjointed. These improvisational stretches seem to pad out a handful of ideas into a length worthy of an album release.
The first bunch of tracks, from Hair Cutter
, contain instrumental ideas that extend themselves for a somewhat-refreshing 15 minutes, even if some of the lyricism feels emotionally vapid. Around the time Coral Understanding
fumbles into existence, the true cacophony reveals itself. Avey Tare's lyrics both read and sound like a computer-generated string of text, delivered with artificial vocal embellishments that cover the entirety of Tangerine Reef
. All the sounds that support his voice are falling apart just as quickly as they can built. Every form of cohesion established on previous tracks has been discarded, in favor of electric shots that refuse to harmonize. This rolls into Airpipe (To a New Transition)
which sounds even more discordant, and gets stuck in a negative feedback loop for all of six minutes.
Jake and Me
is a necessary respite. Even though the lyrics and vocalizations towards the end are strangely repetitive ("and, and, and then, then, then"
) the subtle instrumentation is a truly beautiful addition to the simple chords. It is minimalistic by nature, the opposite of the following song, Coral By Numbers
. At half the length, it contains twice as many lyrics, and is built on stabs of percussion with intense bass. Each one feels like a satisfying jab in the chest, a way to keep the listener's eyes open for the following song. Unfortunately, that song is Hip Sponge
and it is the worst cut from Tangerine Reef
. For four minutes, Avey Tare delivers the same two lines in an excited, jumpy fashion that does not come close to matching the sounds behind him, which are attempting to be quiet and natural. Painfully, the two moods are being pushed together with no positive outcome.
After a while, the ideas that showcased themselves in the first act of the record start to make a resurgence in the third act. Hair Cutter
's lush tones play a key role in Lundsten Coral
as well, and its semi-dreamy state appears to serve as a reminder: we're almost done. One of the best songs on the album is tucked away in the following spot as the penultimate track. Palythoa
is an undertaking in creating the same mood songs like Airpipe
did, and it goes down much easier this time. The opening is magnificent, which carefully segues into a successfully murky atmosphere. Many sounds occupy the stereo field in different places, and they are completely mellifluous when all playing at the same time. Even the lyrics have improved by this point. ("I've been staying for a pick-me-up, now I'm trying to follow you back/Don't think it's time"
Barring the redundancy of lyrics and off-putting percussion in Best of Times (Worst of All)
, Tangerine Reef
ends on a strong note. If someone is looking to get lost in an ambiguously celestial or aquatic world of noises, then this album could easily function in that circumstance. However, when attempting to keenly analyze the cooperation of all the seperate fragments, that is when interest in the album diminishes. Songs rarely operate with all the moving parts in tow. It's frustrating when a set of chords and melodies is trying desperately to produce a certain emotion, but an unwelcome din shows up time and time again, repeatedly breaking that spell. The nail in the coffin is the fact that all vocals on the album have a single chain of effects that does not change for every moment of 52 minutes. This makes them get old, really fast. Songs that are pleasant throughout like Jake and Me
, as well as Palythoa
, are few and far between, which makes Tangerine Reef
generally uninteresting. Sure, it looks gorgeous on the surface. But that doesn't mean all the stuff going on down below is just as impressive.