10 Best Animal Collective Songs
Animal Collective is a four-piece Baltimore-brewed experimental group that rotates its members in and out as necessary. The band comprises primary songwriter Avey Tare, successful solo entity Panda Bear, noncommittal genius Deakin and texture master Geologist. The surprising thing Animal Collective is that for as widespread of a fan base as they’ve built and as many records and tickets they’ve sold — not to mention how many people claim to outright despise them — they’ve kept basic information about themselves fairly secret. At the same time, listeners would have no trouble identifying the band by ear. That is how much the sound of Animal Collective trumps every other aspect of the band. Known for never repeating themselves, Animal Collective has developed a distinct, easily identifiable voice over their 14 years together, and though some of their work can be difficult and abrasive and too complex for many listeners, our list of the 10 Best Animal Collective songs emphasizes how the band has stayed true to itself while creating songs that, if not exactly accessible, make their merit harder to dismiss.
Originally recorded for ‘Strawberry Jam,’ the title track from the ‘Water Curses’ EP spins circles on top of circles, sounding like the carousal from which it takes part of its inspiration. Surely, it’s no accident the vocal effects that that appear near the song’s conclusion sound like the PA announcer at an amusement park. Domino Records described the song as sounding “like a smile,” and if anyone can describe it better, we’ve yet to hear it.
Coming in at No. 9 on the 10 Best Animal Collective Songs is the second single from the group’s most successful album. The song sees Avey Tare struggling through a bad drug experience and rescued by a friend for a summer walk. Animal Collective, at this point, were recording singles that could make people move in large environments without sounding like they were trying to make “singles,” giving them the best of both worlds: commercial success and critical praise. And, of course, indie cred.
The oldest AnCo song to make out list, ‘Slippi’ is chaotic and hyperactive and full of too many ideas that shouldn’t work together. But they do, and a lot of what Animal Collective’s best material was built on can be heard here in its first full realization. Plus, Avey’s maniacal screams are just gold.
Some people say that Animal Collective is drug music, which is not a fair stigma to attach to the entirety of their catalog. ‘Leaf House,’ which was created by just Avery Tare and Panda Bear, is drug music of the highest order, as it replicates the effect of inhaling nitrous.
‘What Would I Want? Sky’
Animal Collective has been called a jam band for people who hate jam bands, so it’s fitting that the first time the Grateful Dead cleared a sample for official use, it was for Animal Collective on this track. The sample is inverted, as it might be heard through memory or intoxication or a memory of intoxication — all fitting, considering both the source material and the artists. Beyond that, the duel vocal lines that Avey Tare and Panda Bear weave around each other present the band at their most straightforward, a look they wear well.
‘Grass’ was the initial single from ‘Feels,’ and following the widespread critical success of ‘Sung Tongs,’ both the song and album transcended the band’s existing niche audience and reached music fans who perhaps had heard of them but didn’t listen to their records. Avey Tare’s vocals showcase his individual trademarks, as he sings the verses with the kind of tuneful falsetto that was not a stretch from the more popular indie rock at the time. At the verse’s concluding moments, he breaks into a something further from traditional singing, a particularly druggy and circus-like delivery. Finally, the song’s refrain, if you can call it that, is a series of screeching noise blasts, with the abrasive moments underscoring the dreamy beauty you had taken for granted in the verse.
‘For Reverend Green’
Some of the best few minutes of raw, desperate, from-the-gut vocals ever put to tape by anyone. No. 4 on our list of the 10 Best Animal Collective Songs is Avey Tare’s crowning vocal achievement. It reaches an upper-cut conclusion as he repeats his dedication, seemingly directed at Al Green. The opening guitar riff is also worthy of adoration.
Over the course of eight minutes, ‘Banshee Beat’ finds Animal Collective exploring areas of beauty and sonic possibility that are flat-out inspiring. Yet at it’s center, many of the group’s signature characteristics are present; they’re simply muted and subtly expanded, to the point that you hardly realize that you’ve been traveling on a gentle incline, allowing the eventual climactic launch to reach fantastic heights.
As you’ve probably noticed, though Panda Bear is the best-known member of Animal Collective, Avey Tare pens and sings the majority of the songs. Nevertheless, Panda Bear’s ‘My Girls’ is far and away the band’s best-known track, and it’s essentially a dance number — a “banger,” even. The percussion swells, claps and whips that punctuate the number are like nothing the band had made before or has tried since, and they prove that should Animal Collective ever want to explore the dance arena (and Panda has, with his guest appearance for Zomby and Daft Punk), the results would be as captivating as the rest of their music.
‘Fireworks,’ No. 1 on our list of the 10 Best Animal Collective Songs, is a tune that probably shouldn’t work. Avey Tare’s melody freely oscillates between tunefully pleasant and abrasive, and the rather downtrodden lyrics directly contrast with the sunny production and harmonized hook. But the humanity of Avey’s performance, and the subtleties that pop in and out of the mix from his bandmates, are wonderful in the literal sense of that word: They inspire wonder at the universe that Animal Collective constructs and the complexity of the emotions that are found there.