Animal Collective - Biography
Underneath all of the chaos, noise and strangeness of Animal Collective’s songs lay some pretty accessible melodies. They are melodies that could be played and sung with little more than an acoustic guitar and would still sound great. If they were a little more controlled and conventional, they might even be played on the radio. However, Animal Collective’s songs are buried so deeply under heaps of sound, smothered beneath layer upon layer of effects so foreign to the ear that upon the first couple of listens, they are actually displeasing. After repeated spins, however, the hooks become clear and the songs become more endearing. At this point in the culture of indie rock, liking Animal Collective is a pretty cool thing to do. Truly appreciating them, however, takes a little time.
Noah Lennox and Conrad Deakin (born Josh Dibb) met all the way back in second grade, when they both attended the same school in Baltimore County. They remained friends despite going to different high schools. While Lennox relocated to Pennsylvania, Deakin continued his education in Baltimore, where he met David Portner and Brian Weitz. Together, they formed a band called Automind with classmates Brendan Fowler and David Shpritz. Eventually, Lennox was introduced to Deakin's new bandmates and a new musical relationship was established between Lennox, Deakin, Weitz and Portner. The four of them began writing together; recording their original, experimental brand of music as a quartet, a trio, a duo or individually.
College soon beckoned the young musicians and split them in half; Deakin and Lennox attended schools in Boston while Weitz and Portner headed to New York. During college, Lennox started a label with Deakin called Soccer Star which gave them a way to release Lennox's solo album, Panda Bear. “Panda Bear” wasn't just the name of Lennox's album, it was also his alias. In fact, every member of the Collective has a nickname. Portner is Avey Tare, Weitz is Geologist, and Josh Dibb, of course, became Conrad Deakin but is usually referred to simply as Deakin.
Portner had a solo album of his own in the works. When he needed a drummer, he looked no further than Lennox. Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished (2000 Animal) is credited to Avey Tare and Panda Bear. By 2000, Deakin and Lennox had dropped out of college and moved to New York. Their label's name was changed to Animal and the band hoped to release plenty of material, be it individually or including all four members. Lennox began playing shows with Portner in New York, where he was soon joined by Weitz. The band shared a house in Brooklyn Heights for a time and it was there that they recorded what would come to be known as Animal Collective's second album (though at the time of its release, it was credited to “Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist”). They also recorded at Portner's parents' house and in Weitz's dorm room. The result, Danse Manatee, appeared in 2001 on Catsup Plate. For those who loved Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, this album was a bit frustrating due to its unsettling use of extreme frequencies. At times, it could be simply excruciating to listen to.
Animal Collective went on tour the next year with Black Dice, a band with whom they'd developed a friendship. This tour is documented in the vinyl-only, limited edition Hollindagain, which came out on St. Ives in 2002 before being reissued on Paw Tracks in 2006. For 2003's Campfire Songs (Catsup Plate), Deakin was present as a member. The new album was borne out of an innovative recording idea; the band would play in a screened-in porch with strategically-placed microphones around them as well as outside to capture the sounds of nature and give the songs an intimate, campfire feel. To add to this feeling of warmth, the band recorded all five songs successively, in one take.
Here Comes the Indian (2003) was the first album credited to Animal Collective and their first release on their new label, Paw Tracks. Around the time of its release, Brighton-based FatCat Records had taken a shine to the band's music and signed them for the release of future material and re-releases of past albums. Their first order of business with Animal Collective was to re-release Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished and Danse Manatee on a single disc credited to Animal Collective (not Avey Tare and Panda Bear or Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist) in 2003.
In 2004, Lennox released a second studio album, Young Prayer. Portner and Lennox then went on tour together, opening for the bands múm and Four Tet. They then headed to Lamar, Colorado for the recording of what would become Sung Tongs (2004 FatCat). Distinguished by its use of lovely harmonies amidst a chaotic backdrop, the new album pushed Animal Collective that much closer to the forefront of the indie rock conscious, a space they now unquestionably occupy. What brought them closer still was their next album, Feels (2005 FatCat). Where Sung Tongs was a bit quieter and more stripped-down, Feels had a little more swagger. It is something of a tour de force, showcasing all the weirdness of the band, but also their simplicity in songwriting on tracks like “Banshee Beat.” A stop-gap EP, People (Spunk), followed in 2006.
In March of 2007, Lennox released a third Panda Bear album, Person Pitch (Paw Tracks). It was showered with critical praise and would eventually be ranked number one in Pitchfork Media's albums of the year. From a critical point of view, Noah Lennox outdid his own band's LP, Strawberry Jam (2007-Domino), that year; an album that, despite being well received and boasting some of the band's best recorded material (e.g. “Fireworks” and “Derek”), left some a bit disappointed. There was still a feeling that Animal Collective hadn't delivered the knockout punch so many fans had hoped they would. In 2008, the band inked a deal with Domino and released another EP, Water Curses.
Animal Collective's eighth album proper, Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino) was released on January 6th, 2009. The band released a visual album called ODDSAC in 2010, followed by Centipede Hz in 2012.