Here Comes the Indian
doubt anyone could have predicted, when the Animal Collective started slowly leaking releases into the world through their own arcane distribution system a few years ago, that this mysterious group would arrive so quickly at the place they’re at today. Here Comes the Indian is, curiously, the first release to actually feature all four members of the collective -- Avey Tare, Panda Bear, the Geologist, and previously unheard contributor Deakon -- and comes across as a true mission statement for these rebels. The timing is certainly appropriate, as the band have released two divine new albums this year (the other being Campfire Songs, minus Deakon), been picked up by the ultra-cool FatCat Records, and had FatCat reissue the hard-to-find first two albums in the Collective’s repertoire.
All this, coupled with the sudden universal usage of the Animal Collective moniker to describe all the band’s projects, regardless of membership, points at the very least to a tremendous increase of focus on the part of the group’s marketing instincts. But it’s a focus that also bleeds deeply into the music on Here Comes the Indian, which is undeniably their best and most fully developed outing to date. The music here is, in some senses, a condensation and extension of what has come before, incorporating both the poppy psych rock of Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished and the more outré electronic mangling of Danse Manatee. However, Indian is in many other ways an album hardly even conceivable just from listening to what came before.
This is largely due to the incredible deftness with which the foursome has blended their many influences this time around. Whereas both previous records were characterized by a wild eclecticism that resulted in much unpredictable bashing about, Here Comes the Indian is utterly smooth and natural in its flow from passages of wide-eyed, acid-damaged spiritualism to punk-tinged stompers and hypnotic rave-ups. The unpredictability remains paramount, to be sure. “Slippi,” a standout on a nearly faultless record, starts as an energetic punk dance with messy horns and stop-start screamed verses, then shifts into a mock-up of a native dance that could be either Caribbean or African in origin, unexpectedly laying bare at least one of the group’s many inspirations. Though the music may be as varied as ever on Indian, the group has apparently taken much more interest in the final product than before, putting together a record where the overall structure is its best feature. Here, Animal Collective take you through a vivid, emotional world that recreates in sound the neon-tinted, child-like scrawls running over the woodsy photos that bind the album.
The journey begins with the punky, juvenile screes of “Native Belle,” the unchecked singing of the band members seeming to burst out like mating calls above the dynamic lulls and explosions in the fiercely rhythmic music. This leads directly into the simmering electronic intro of “Hey Light,” which is if anything even more far-reaching. This song can be taken as something of a signifier for the album as a whole, with psych-y guitars, thrashy drums, and liquid drones segueing directly into an utterly surprising campfire coda, with handclaps providing the only accompaniment to an unearthly chant. This willingness to surprise -- to interrupt chaos with beauty, and vice versa -- is at the heart of Here Comes the Indian’s success, and the ragged spirituality of this tune’s lovely sing-along feels oddly at home when juxtaposed against their wilder tendencies.
Perhaps this all works because the whole record shelters a delicate tenderness even within the band’s most seemingly aggressive outbursts. When “Infant Dressing Table” opens with distorted, animalistic voices spitting out robotic chatter, it’s more pretty than it is frightening, especially when the counterpoint is a lullaby-like melody. There are, of course, obvious references points here to the last two Boredoms albums. In terms of the actual sound, this is certainly true -- particularly in the joyous Krautrock rhythms of “Hey Light” and the slow-building motorik drone “Two Sails on a Sound” -- as Animal Collective seem to draw both directly from Boredoms and also from the numerous older sources (Faust, Amon Düül, Can) which in turn prompted the metamorphosis of Boredoms from noisy thrash-punk to spiritual drum gurus. But these two bands share far more than a commonality of inspiration.
Both Animal Collective on Indian and Boredoms on Super Ae and Vision Creation Newsun seem concerned with striking a balance between two seemingly opposing strands of modern music: on the one hand, the spontaneity and cathartic pleasure of untutored live playing, and on the other the near-limitless compositional possibilities afforded by electronic manipulation. In the Collective’s case, as in Boredoms’, the integration of these electronic elements is near-seamless within the mix -- a stark contrast to Danse Manatee’s in-your-face sine tones and bursts of noise. Indian has a much more organic feel to it, the sound of inspired amateurs improvising and then only slightly tweaking and rearranging the results later. Although the dense patchworks of clatter and melody found on these songs could almost certainly not have been achieved through a traditional live performance, whatever later production, manipulation, and layering the group may have applied to their recordings is totally transparent, which makes it all the more fun to get lost in their forests of noise.
Reviewed by: Ed Howard
Reviewed on: 2003-09-10