There is a clearing at the heart of the forest where Animal Collective
holds its vespertine celebrations. As the sun dips below the horizon,
filtering the last of its stained glass images through the tall oaks,
this rough-and-tumble band of halflings gathers in a circle around the blackened fire pit. At some unspecified point (perhaps when the
planets are properly aligned or the ancient owl delivers its call)
they draw their instruments — drumsticks fashioned from bones,
fat-bellied guitars carved from tree trunks, hollow-gourd rattles,
buckskin tambourines — and begin to play.
At least that’s my fantastical version of how it all happens. I’m
holding on to this delusion because I had to miss Animal Collective’s
recent performance at the Ottobar. While I was out entertaining a
visiting friend, other Baltimorean hipsters were treated to (I’m
guessing) a collection of songs culled from their two albums, _Here
Comes the Indian_ and _Sung Tongs_. The latter has proven to
be one of my favorite releases from the past year.
Sung Tongs opens with “Leaf House,” a haunting collision of yelping,
twittering, and occasional singing that somehow manages to be
harmonic. The feral intensity of the song serves as an invitation of
sorts into a world where there is no distinction between the cerebral
and the corporal, nothing dividing humans from their beastly
This theme is further explored in the next track, “Who Could Win a
Rabbit,” a joyous, handclapping number bent on coaxing the listener
out of the “hungry bread and butter hustle” to go chase some rabbits. The _Alice in Wonderland_ allusion rings through loud and clear as the great life question is asked: “Rabbit or a habit?” That muddy hole in the ground has never looked more appealing.
The true standout song on _Sung Tongs_ is “Winters Love,” whose four minutes and fifty-five seconds seem too short no matter how many times I listen to it. The track plays out like a Christmas hymn as interpreted by, well, a choir of hobbits or elves. At the same time,
the song evokes the experience of standing at a frost-covered window in late December, breathing circles of hope into the panes while waiting for your long-lost love to return from an epic journey.
While the album does veer into some strange territory and some of the songs ramble on a bit too long, I still highly recommend it. Anything that can inspire a person (okay, me) to yell “Tiger tiger tiger tiger tiger” in the middle of the grocery store parking lot is worth checking out.