Formed in: 2000, New York, New York
Key Albums: Sung Tongs (2004), Strawberry Jam (2007), Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)
Animal Collective are a loosely-assembled four-piece 'band' currently based between Lisbon, Baltimore, New York, and Washington, DC. Friends since childhood, the band came together under the Animal Collective name in 2003, and have, since, received consistent critical acclaim, earning a reputation as one of the new millennium's most important, inventive musical acts. Vaguely considered freak-folk, their music is beholden to no particular genre; often made without guitars, bass, or drums, yet very much the work of a band.
Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Deakin (Josh Dibb) met in grade-school in Roland Park in suburban Baltimore, and started making music in middle-school. When Lennox left to attend high-school in Pennsylvania, Dibb started working with Avey Tare (Dave Portner) and Geologist (Brian Weitz), pals from The Park School of Baltimore.
The quartet reconvened, post-college, in New York in 2000. After years of trading home-recordings between each other, they started collaborating.
Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, now regarded as the first Animal Collective album, was self-released by the crew in 2000. Billed, originally, as Avey Tare & Panda Bear, it's largely Portner's baby. “People associate those early records as Animal Collective records,” Portner told Baltimore City Paper, in 2005. “But at the time it was like, we don’t really have a ‘band.’”
In 2001, they issued Danse Manatee under the unwieldy billing Avey Tare, Panda Bear & Geologist. Calling it, in hindsight, their "New York record," the record features "lots of high frequencies and harsh noise, more difficult feelings,” things largely absent elsewhere in their discography. It was followed, in 2002, with a limited-edition live-album, Hollinndagain, that captured the nascent Collective at their most circuit-frying.
Their next album was a radical change. Recorded as Campfire Songs, the eponymous set featured harmonic, acoustic tunes recorded live on a back-porch. Explained Lennox, in 2004, to The Milk Factory: "We wanted it to sound like a campfire feels and I think that also made us think of campfire songs that you can sing with a bunch of people and everybody gets connected and feels good and safe."
The band then established their label Paw Tracks, and on it they immediately released Here Comes the Indian, their second album in 2003, and the first released as Animal Collective. Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished and Danse Manatee were reissued together, as a double album, by British label Fat Cat, taking this newly-named Collective to a whole new audience.
Even as Animal Collective courted bigger audiences with their prolific 2003, they still remained so mysterious as to border on myth; the members, in those days, hiding behind their weird handles, face-masks, and a reticence to do interviews.
“That early ‘air of mystery’ wasn’t a conscious thing, but I think it was definitely a value that we held,” Dibb said to me, in 2006. “We were born in isolation. We came out of all these years in Maryland, where we were just doing it all for ourselves. There were other people around us that made music, but they didn’t really understand what we were doing. For the most part, we’ve felt very much like we’ve been doing something that’s from us, and not something that has connection to other people.”
In 2004, Portner and Lennox made Animal Collective's crossover record, Sung Tongs. Fitting in with the bubbling-up freak-folk movement, the set's optimism and primitivism struck a chord with an ever-increasing audience. "After Sung Tongs was released," Lennox noticed, with some bemusement, "people seemed really excited to talk to me and be around me even though they didn’t know me"
Building off that momentum, all four Collectivists got together to make their most pop-like album, 2005's Feels. "It's all love songs!" Portner beamed, to Free Williamsburg on the record's release.
Love had, indeed, struck. Portner was engaged to former Múm member Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir, and Lennox had gotten married to Portuguese fashion designer Fernanda Pereira, with whom he had a daughter, Nadja.
Living in Lisbon, Lennox worked on his third solo album, 2007's dub-influenced, tropicalist Person Pitch, which went on to earn universally positive reviews, and be named Pitchfork's album of '07. After nearly a year apart, with each member living in a separate city, Animal Collective reconvened to work on their seventh album, 2007's Strawberry Jam.
"I was a little worried about it," Lennox said, at the time, of their distanced set up. "[But] whenever we get together now, we haven’t seen each other for a month or a couple months and we’re just really excited to see each other and work together."
Strawberry Jam captured that excitement with a set of rattling, rambunctious, dancefloor-friendly jams. In 2008, out trickled Water Curses, a follow-up EP to that album.
In 2009, Animal Collective released their ninth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion. The most euphoric, electronic record by the band was greeted with instant, exclamatory acclaim, cementing their reputation as one of the most distinctive, individual voices in American music. It routinely topped 2009 album-of-the-year lists, was feted as one of best records of the 2000s, made the case for Animal Collective as one of the decade's most influential acts, and essentially became an instant indie classic.
The band, true to their ways, stayed humble in the face of their swiftly-rising profile. "We all feel lucky that people give a s**t about our music, none of us ever want to take it for granted," said Lennox. Added Weitz: "At festivals now, we're on the main stage, playing in front of 20 or 30 thousand people. That certainly doesn’t touch my ego; I tend to not even look out at the crowd so as to avoid feeling overwhelmed."
Animal Collective followed the huge success of Merriweather Post Pavilion by throwing themselves into a number of smaller projects: the 2009 Fall Be Kind EP, the feature-length film Oddsac (which played like a Matthew Barney movie with a whole score of new, experimental Animal Collective sounds), and the way-out-there 2012 12-inch Transverse Temporal Gyrus, whose sound was drawn from a multimedia collaboration with Oddsac director Danny Perez.
Late in 2012, Animal Collective turned out their much-anticipated follow-up to Merriweather Post Pavilion, Centipede Hz. Though met with initial excitement, the record was considered by many a 'disappointment,' in comparison to its predecessor; even though it was a dense, thoughtful, deep record that clearly stood as one of 2012's best albums.