2019 marks the 10-year anniversary of Animal Collective’s breakout album Merriweather Post Pavilion, the record that got me into the band, as well as acted as the cement shoes that pulled me down into the nefarious depths of indie rock. Although I no longer consider the band as one of my top favorites at this time, I was a massive fan in high school and college and they definitely had a hand in developing my taste today. Merriweather‘s anniversary got me in the AnCo wave and pulled me back out to sea with these MD boys. I’m kind of sick of listening to so much of them again, so what better way to exorcise an obsession than making an agonizing list? That’s like, my life’s work right there.
Going into making these selections, I made myself a set of questions to ask myself once it was complete. Will I lean towards songs lead by Panda Bear or Avey Tare? Will I be pulling all the hits? Will I find any deep cuts that I adore? Will any of their early material make the cut? Will any of their recent material make the cut? Would my current favorite album of theirs, Strawberry Jam, hold up after being picked apart? Is “My Girls” gonna be my favorite song? In short, am I going to be incredibly predictable?
Check out my top 10 favorite Animal Collective songs below, complete with Warm Visions description flair, along with an analysis of my picks below that.
- “Fireworks” [Strawberry Jam]
Leisurely riding your bike home on a warm Friday evening with the sun in your eyes at the start of the commute and the sun dramatically setting at the end of it.
- “Bleed” [Fall Be Kind EP]
Every night you have a dream of being buried alive, which eventually leads you to find solace in lying in large patches of dirt above ground & staring at drifting clouds above.
- “My Girls” [Merriweather Post Pavilion]
A living room dance party soundtracked by thunder and heavy rain on the rooftop.
- “For Reverend Green [Strawberry Jam]
A man born without a voice box jury-rigs one together using an old rotary phone and an antenna through his windpipe, eventually gaining the ability to broadcast space station correspondence through his mouth.
- “Daily Routine” [Merriweather Post Pavilion]
Late morning dreams of brainless chores make you feel like blissfully sleeping away the day is synonymous with being productive.
- “The Purple Bottle” [Feels]
A backyard party is lit by sparklers, making for not only dynamic lighting but also small pricks of pain when a spark makes contact with skin.
- “Bluish” [Merriweather Post Pavilion]
A hypnotized soul, lost in the undulating riptide of love for another.
- “Cuckoo Cuckoo” [Strawberry Jam]
Giant cracks in the Earth’s surface caused by an earthquake emit at once both chaotic and harmonious frequencies across the planet.
- “Safer” [Peacebone EP]
A nonsensical slideshow of memories and sensations flash before your eyes in the throes of entering the afterlife.
- “Prospect Hummer” [Prospect Hummer EP]
A chorus of frogs back up a wispy grasshopper soprano in a club secluded by tall reeds.
At the end of the tunnel, I finally have answers. The songs I pulled here are not super surprising and are some of the group’s most beloved creations. I am not some daring contrarian. If you read my blog at all, you’d know that. I am Big Hit Fan.
Regarding the complexion of the picks, it obviously skews towards my favorite two records, Strawberry (still #1, baby) and Merriweather. Only one appearance from Feels and nothing from Sung Tongs and its predecessors. It’s not that I don’t like those records, there aren’t any songs that cut me to my core on there. I can’t super jam out on those songs. Same goes for Feels, it’s a great piece of work and has a dear place in my heart, but aside from “The Purple Bottle”, no song that throws a javelin into my brain and spins me around like a medieval flail. I’m looking for that quality in my music.
So yes, I snubbed the past, but I also snubbed the present as well. There was nothing at all from the band’s 2010’s output that came remotely close of entering this list. 2016’s Painting With is an album that I actively dislike and Centipede Hz  & Tangerine Reef  don’t do much for me. Centipede and Painting feel like the band found a bunch of weird sounds and tried to build gooey, melting pop songs out of them. I can’t remember too many dynamic moments on those LPs, which is what I look for in just about everything I listen to. Not just goofy sounds. Other appearances include 2005’s Prospect Hummer EP, the collab with Vashti Bunyan, the Peacebone EP, and the Fall Be Kind EP. If I had made this 11 songs long, Fall Be Kind‘s “What Would I Want? Sky” would be #11.
As a whole the songs mostly swayed towards Avey-led creations, which was a bit surprising considering my preference towards Panda Bear’s solo material between the two of them. However when I think of the split, I usually think of the Avey-led songs as being these bonkers, screaming freakouts while Panda’s are usually exercise more restraint. Aside from “For Reverend Green”, we see the traits associated with Panda’s approach but underneath the entire umbrella of the group.
Using this framework, I found that I tend to float towards the songs that are more patient than the itchy pop burners that the band is beloved for. “Summertime Clothes”, “Brother Sport”, “Grass”, “Honeycomb”, “Who Could Win A Rabbit” are examples of these. Great songs, but not ones that I find myself marveling at. The ones that wrap me up in its universe, a multicolored quilt of sonic textures, are my major jams.
Take my #1, “Fireworks”. Very likely the band’s second most-beloved song, I spent a lot of time daydreaming to this song in high school, riding my bike around town or singing along with it while doing homework in my room. It’s a song that’s about finding joy in life despite the pains of heartache and feeling lost. Sometimes all we want to do is feel connected, but sometimes we want to feel free. This song explores the space in between those two feelings. I’ve always equated it with LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” as this hypnotic, emotional, introspection-inducing song that seduces movement out of its listener. Even though most of the lyrics are psychedelic gibberish poetry, it’s easy to connect the emotion in Avey’s delivery and understand what he’s talking about.
My #2 song, “Bleed” could be considered a deep cut. In 2013 I became obsessed with its mantra-like repetition and back and forth vocal structure between Avey & Panda, cementing itself as a perennial favorite for feeling lost ever since. Avey’s high note at the end is also a major highlight – potentially the highest he goes in the catalog? The instrumental mimics breathing, so it is perfect for a bit of guided introspection and meditation if that’s what you’re looking for.
I’m not going to break down every single one of these songs, but I’ll run through the middle here real quick. “My Girls” is obviously their biggest hit, and for good reason. My most distinct memory with this song (and the band, really) is going onto the iTunes Store page for Merriweather and seeing the top review was one star, writing something like “if you buy this, you better buy Motrin afterwards cause this trash will give you a headache”. Following that is “For Reverend Green”, which absolutely blew my mind in high school. I had never heard any kind of sounds like that before with its crunchy guitars and tinny synths. Not to mention Avey’s bonkers vocal delivery. It’s a song delirious and delighted with destruction and one that I would definitely go nuts for if I heard it live.
“Daily Routine” is my most recent favorite, the frantic synth pattern providing a glittery backdrop to Panda’s canyonized vocals and dramatic piano stabs. I love how the track transitions from a very alert, frenetic romp to a floating dreamspace halfway through. I think it’s literally about sleeping in, so it makes sense: the shock of waking up and being late for school, ultimately realizing that you actually woke up three hours before your alarm is set to go off. Back to bed! “The Purple Bottle” is a rattling, propulsive love song that makes excellent use of the weird sounds and rhythms that AnCo is known for. The raucous percussion is a constant throughout, but the disembodied choir of gurgling voices constantly evolve throughout, making for a dynamic soundstage. The song is actually headed somewhere instead of idling. Would it be considered freak folk? Is this a freak folk thing? Shout out to those who have heard the Stevie Wonder interpolating version of this song. “Bluish” is the song I put on every mix CD I gave to girls I liked in high school. I still find it incredibly romantic and playful, albeit a bit naive. Lastly, we have “Prospect Hummer”, a meditative and whimsical song about staying in and cuddling a cat that features the legendary Vashti Bunyan. Another great romantic song!
Near the bottom, we have “Cuckoo Cuckoo” and “Safer”, which in my mind are the spiritual twins of AnCo’s catalog and sum up my favorite qualities of the band. Both are pretty formulaic in structure: starting off slow and ominous with a pretty piano sample (“Cuckoo” samples Liszt!), then introducing one new sound after another to further establish the setting. There’s a build up to a cathartic release, but after the first climax, nothing is quite the same. Certain familiar sounds are now warped, and others that seemed innocuous before the chorus now hint at a second coming, a second explosion, putting the listener on edge. It feels unstable now, like things might break apart at any moment. Both emotional peaks in these songs include Avey doing his signature yelping scream amongst wanton drums, crushed guitars and anxious electronics.
While “Safer” has a nice and easy resolution, “Cuckoo Cuckoo” sharply transitions back to its piano motif with about 20 seconds left in the song, right after one last harsh, electrifying chorus. The songwriting and arrangements of this duo have always stuck out to me as being some of the finest in the catalog and make me wish that there were more like it that sounded this good. The formula is present on AnCo’s earlier releases, but the level of production and fidelity on these tracks put them far and away superiors. The patience in letting the song develop is what I look for in a great Animal Collective song, and these demonstrate it in spades.
I’d love to hear what your favorite AnCo songs are, whether they’re on this list or not. I’m certain that as my taste changes over time, this list will become shuffled. But right now, when my fandom is picked back into a fever pitch, I cannot think of any songs better than these.