Animal Collective, ‘Monkey Been to Burn Town’ EP – Album Review
In 2013, it's hard to really put a finger on where Animal Collective are in terms of both creativity and career. Their most recent album, 2012's 'Centipede HZ,' failed to capitalize on -- or sustain -- the momentum the band has built over the last decade. To be fair, not many albums could, following a four-LP streak of releases ('Sung Tongs,' 'Feels,' 'Strawberry Jam,' 'Merriweather Post Pavilion') that are already considered canonical by critics. That remarkable series of LPs earned the experimental quartet the status to headline the likes of the Pitchfork Music Festival and the Hollywood Bowl -- places no one who knew Animal Collective back in the day, when they were banging on bongos and chanting nonsense, would have expected them to land.
With just one release, Animal Collective have reminded us that in the music world, if you're not on the way up, you're on the way down.
If 'Centipede HZ' was a disappointment, 'Monkey Been to Burn Town' EP highlights its struggles. Here, Animal Collective have chosen four unrelated artists to produce inspired takes on two 'Centipede HZ' songs, and while this decision reveals the quality of the material, it also underscores the group's own need for the kind of creative punch or jumpstart that guides these remixes, or at least some careful editing.
Of the three versions of 'Monkey Riches,' Gang Gang Dance's is most faithful to Animal Collective's original song. Brian Degraw, GGD's co-founder and synth-operator, makes his mark in the intro and bridge, drawing out lengthy displays of glitchy, inorganic inflections and the occasional sudden hand flute or crashing wave. But the remix still allows Animal Collective's Avey Tare to deliver his vocal melody. It's one of the strongest on the recent collection, and it works more effectively here.
Traxman, meanwhile, warps the song much further under a blanket of backwards and accelerated violins and off-beat cymbal taps. Only one small bit of the original's singing is repurposed, with the guitar lead becoming the new version's focus. The remix, like Degraw's, is effective, but both fall short of feeling definitive or essential.
Teengirl Fantasy, though, take the Animal Collective track and pull it underwater, into the sky and eventually to their own lab, where they poke and prod it until it submits to being a completely different entity than before. The mix is especially bleep-filled and stocked with Star Wars-esque sound effects, but the track is special in that it feels like a complete journey, one that reaches a purpose: The remix becomes the duo's own song.
Shabazz Palaces, the only artist on the EP to remix 'New Town Burnout,' achieves the same thing. Like Teengirl Fantasy, the universe that Shabazz Palaces creates is distinct to them. They take what seems like just a few notes from the source over which to drop spacey raps, until the song devolves into more space than rap.
The personality of these songs, and their lack of inhibition, reminds of what Animal Collective does when they are on track, relying on their instincts rather than over-complicating and over-thinking. This would normally be about the time AnCo releases their traditional post-album EP of original material, so while this might be a highly listenable and at times impressive offering, a disconcerted feeling is what lingers most.