Animal Collective – Danse Manatee

animal-collective-danse-manatee

Part I: The Background

“Danse Manatee” is the second album released by Animal Collective… except it kind of isn’t, since they didn’t officially adopt that moniker until 2003’s “Here Comes The Indian”. The album is a collaboration between Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist, the same trio responsible for “Merriweather Post Pavillion” and “Painting With”. Of course, this predates those by over half a decade,  so don’t be expecting the same magic here. If I could sum this album up with a single word, that word would be “abrasive”. Basically, this takes all of the cacophony and chaos from the previous album and strips it of all the beauty and songwriting. Though not as thoroughly as you may have been led to believe.

Part II: The Music

A Manatee Danse: The album begins with some screeching synths that I presume are meant to sound like a manatee? Or maybe there’s an actual sample being used. I have no clue. This really isn’t a song; it’s an introductory track that’s focused on atmosphere. So I’m going to have to break out the alternate rating system for this one, aren’t I? So. Does it fit the album? Definitely–it’s the perfect opener considering what’s to come. Would I listen to this on its own? I can’t think of a single reason why I would. RATING: 2/3

Penguin Penguin: This may be one of the most muddled, explosive, chaotic things I’ve ever heard that still manages to maintain a melody. You can hear the same songwriting sensibilities that brought us Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished. Just, you know, buried under a whole lot of electronic squealing and screeching. RATING: 5/10

Another White Singer: Way to whine those vocals Avey. It’d really be hard to interpret this album as an aurally painful joke if it weren’t the fact that this is kind of the status quo for AnCo. But we’re actually starting to get to the meat of this album now. Quite a few of these tracks work because they revolve around an almost tribal-like sense of rhythm. But the album really is greater than the sum of its parts; take any of these songs out of context, and you’ll be left scratching your head. RATING: 4/10

Essplode: The gem of the album… or so we’re told. It’s definitely the most normal track on the album. If Avey’s vocals were a little louder and the percussion were a little less chaotic and the production were crisper and the guitar playing were tighter and basically this were just done by a more traditional band, this would make a decent pop song. It’d also be boring as hell. The things that make this track a challenge to listen to are the same things that make it worth listening to. RATING: 8/10

Meet The Light Child: Well you know I’m a sucker for psychedelia. In the 60s, singers sang a little more slowly and flanged or phased their vocals to make them more psychedelic. Avey just naturally sounds stoned out of his mind. And again, there’s quite a pretty melody buried beneath the eccentric production choices. But what makes this song is the wordless harmonized vocals that first kick in at 2:16. The synthesizer overlaid on top of them is beautifully celestial, even if it is a bit grating to listen to. It’s a little callback to the sound of the previous album. The song then breaks off into a messy, sloppy jam–so not a strawberry jam. It’s the kind of the thing you’d expect to hear from early Pink Floyd. But then a little touch of beauty slowly comes creeping back into the song towards the end. This song is one hell of a trip. RATING: 7.5/10

Runnin’ The Round Ball: So remember that tribal stuff I was talking about? It peaks on this song. I could spend a whole paragraph rephrasing that sentiment, but, as in the case of this song, sometimes less is more. RATING: 6/10

Bad Crumbs: This feels like a transitional song to me. That’s kind of the problem with early Animal Collective; it’s hard to distinguish between the tracks that are meant to connect the dots and the tracks that are meant to stand on their own. Because of the under-produced nature of this album, I’m inclined to just take this song as the latter. RATING: 4/10

The Living Toys: Well this trip took a wrong turn. This track is downright eerie. The constant drone in the background, the hissing synths, the ominous bass, and the sinister melody work together to create a foreboding and just plain creepy atmosphere. This song reminds me of this fairy tale I once read about a puppet master whose puppets all come to life and kill him. It really sounds like that’s what’s going on here. This isn’t “Toy Story”–these living toys are out for blood. But with little melodic and textural variation, this song quickly becomes a drag. At nearly eight minutes, it certainly overstays its welcome.  RATING: 3/10

Throwin’ The Round Ball: Now this is more like it! Here’s childish, playful, innocent Animal Collective. And I love it. RATING: 7.5/10

Ahhh Good Country: Another psychedelic track. If you can sit past the jarring screech that drones on for nearly two minutes, you’ll be greeted with some harmonized vocals. But does the song actually go anywhere? Of course not! Haven’t you been paying attention? It’s about the rhythm. RATING: 5.5/10

Lablakely Dress: If the vocals weren’t so altered and the backing track weren’t so sparse, this song would have just about enough beauty and melody not to be out of place on that Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished album I won’t shut up about. Avey’s vocals have that same speaking-through-a-fan effect as Bill Wyman’s vocals do on “In Another Land”. But of course, here it’s taken to the extreme–we can only barely make out what’s being sung. And it works. RATING: 7.5/10

In The Singing Box: We break from all the madness for a–relatively–accessible album closer. Melody is brought back to the forefront. They synths are still screechy, but less so. You know, this lo-fi psychedelia things is pretty neat. And that’s pretty much what this album is. Lo-fi psychedelia. RATING: 6.5/10

Part III:The Album

Aesthetic: The lo-fi production is kind of integral to the album, yeah? And the cover suits it just fine. If anything, the cover art’s a little reigned in. I can’t really poke any holes in the choices that were made here other than the fact that they’re abrasive and offputting to begin with. SCORE: 4/5

Artistic Merit: How much of this is genuine experimentation and how much is simply drug-fuelled madness? That’s for you to decide. But certainly, if this album hasn’t got artistic merit, it hasn’t got much. Then again, at times it feels like experimentation for experimentation’s sake–there’s no real artistic statement being made here. SCORE: 4/5

Flow: It is cohesive, I’ll give it that. And, as stated earlier, this is definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The album does drag at times *cough*Living Toys*cough*, so it’s by no means a perfect listening experience. SCORE: 6/10

CLOSING REMARKS: Danse Manatee is not a masterpiece. In fact, it’s a bit of a let-down after Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished. But it’s not totally skip-able either. There are some really great moments here if you have the patience to sit through this album a few times and let it grow on you. But I wouldn’t go so far as to call this album essential.

FINAL SCORE: 61/100