Animal Collective are no strangers to the strange. Tangerine Reef, the latest album from the trio of Avey Tare, Deakin, and Geologist, places the band in the fullness of themselves. This audio-visual album is a pensive exploration of a coral reef. Things get weird.
Inspired by International Year of the Reef, Animal Collective had participated in a small project to highlight the importance of reef preservation. They explored the sex-life of coral, which deepened the band’s interest in the underwater environment, and the ramifications of it’s corrosion. Extending the project, with Coral Morphologic (marine biologist Colin Foord and musician J.D. McKay) taking care of the visual element, Animal Collective developed Tangerine Reef – a sequence of tracks that dive through sensations, and observations encountered within the endangered underwater world.
Separating the audio track from the visual treatment is possible, but not ideal. It’s smart to view all aspects of this project in their holistic entirety. Musical passages wash into each other, visuals sit within the tones. This thing comes alive when experienced, not simply observed or listened to.
Placed against previous releases from Animal Collective, the lack of boundaries on Tangerine Reef will trouble a number of listeners. The kind of fans who feel experimentation is okay, until it’s not okay, will be grasping toward concrete structures where there is only fluid form. The band will surely know they’ve gone a little beyond the usual depth of exploration with this one. To the rest of us, this darker-than-usual, abstract tone-poem, sits perfectly within the spirit of the band. True, there’s nothing of normal reference here. ‘Beats’ in the sense of ‘dance floor deliverables’ don’t exist, and radio play of constituent tracks will be miraculous events. Aside from an off-kilter chant of “The time is now / now is the time…” the opportunity to sing along is non-existent. This is no “FloriDada”. The usual Animal Collective playfulness is absent. Ironically, Tangerine Reef is way more ‘Dada’.
The removal of almost all usual percussive structure means that we’re existing outside usual time. Yes, there are moments where we can point clearly to beat-making noises – but they’re intended less as framework or punctuation. Instead these clean sounds produce the effect of stretch-out textures. Animal Collective hold a microphone up to a macro idea.
The darkness, both visual and audio, is like a balm. Even in starker moments, when the fragility of the reef is expressed, the lack of familiar light is somehow refreshing. At times the uncalculated honesty brings a direct expression of sadness. Serious warnings are issued, but we are never talked down to, or patronized with over-simplified jargons to encourage concern. Shapes pass through the ear and the eye. Fluorescent creatures, bizarre shapes, bottomless sounds meander gently through time. The minutiae of textures, and suggestions of form are discreet in the audio mix, but presented in high-def fine detail in the video. The psychedelic aspects of these life forms are not wasted on Animal Collective or their crowd – nature can be deeply weird, utterly hypnotic. It is under threat, and therefore entirely worthy of our concern.
It’s the connection between us and the hallucinatory, alien underwater world that Animal Collective celebrate. This album is not an academic exercise in rallying support for a cause close to a bands’ heart. Nothing is forced into an explicit plea for help, support or even awareness. Instead this is an emotive, immersive experience that offers an opportunity to reflect, and suspend normal thinking in favor of an intuitive, natural response to the environment. The reef, in this instance, is in each of us. Even though it remains under threat, spiritual wonder remains possible.
Removing themselves of the normal restrictions of content and form Animal Collective have produced something in Tangerine Reef that blurs distinction between inner and outer worlds. This is where reality happens, and it’s wonderfully surreal.
HURRY – LISTEN – ANIMAL COLLECTIVE
PHOTOGRAPH BY GESI SCHILLING