Animal Collective: Sung Tongs , and Black Dice: Creature Comforts

Animal Collective
Sung Tongs
Fat Cat

Black Dice
Creature Comforts
DFA

To celebrate their first show together since 2001, Brooklyn-based noisemakers Animal Collective and Black Dice played at New York's legendary Anthology Film Archives earlier this spring. With a blurt from a bent trumpet, longtime avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas kicked off the ceremonies by explaining why "Animal" Collective is a more apt descriptor than, say, "Cattle" Collective: "You can never predict the actions of an animal."

A warning to heed as Sung Tongs (dig the spoonerism) bursts into bloom. These 12 stunning acoustic paeans of naïf vocal pop loop back to the weird song-based wonder of Animal Collective's first release, Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, rather than last year's Here Comes the Indian, which leapt maniacally from tribal chants to erratic electronic soundscapes. On Sung, the duo of Panda Bear and Avey Tare trade bah-bahs like Simon and Garfunkel, their strumming guitars augmented only by a dollop of hand drums. Wordless intonations coalesce briefly into an enunciated line of personal loss on "Leaf House"--"This house is sad, because he's gone"--before unraveling into tranced-out cries that swell until the two voices resound like an entire Pygmy tribe yelping from deep in the foliage of the Ituri Forest.

Cyclical drifts of guitar on "Visiting Friends" and "The Softest Voice" recall the band's more rustic side project, Campfire Songs, which also found them wandering lost. And while the title of "Winters Love" may be out of season, the track is easily the summer's most transcendent slice of sunshine pop, sounding as if copies of the Beach Boys' abandoned Smile tapes made it into the hands of Liberian children, who incorporated them into their sing-alongs. Straying far into the bush of ghosts, the Animal Collective merge their childlike splendor with ecstatic tribal ritual, creating an amalgam that retains the innocence of both.

The same night that Animal Collective performed at Anthology, their sonic brethren Black Dice accompanied the maddening flicker of Ken Jacobs's film "Nervous Magic Lantern" with a live score. Having jettisoned their longtime drummer the week of the show, the group eschewed both their hardcore past and the club thump of their Timbaland-approved 2003 single "Cone Toaster," replacing it all with a savage, slippery sound that erased brainwaves while offering a cranium-crushing throb in its stead.

Black Dice venture even deeper into the urban jungle on Creature Comforts, their second full-length for DFA (a label more internationally known for their dance-punk and cowbells). Beyond any resemblance of traditional structure or song, the guitar, FX knobs, and drums hallucinate amorphous exotica with a high fever. Digital gibbons chitter, scaly birds call out, and amplified stegosaurus digestion becomes painfully audible as all the sounds merge with brief glimpses of native percussion on "Creature." The album's 15-minute centerpiece, "Skeleton," slides about like slack-key king Gabby Pahinui or a mischievous mid-period Orb melted in lava streams. With the drum kit abandoned, the remaining trio hides in mélanges of squiggles, peering out from the dense feedback foliage like animals in Henri Rousseau's exotic landscapes. Somewhere, lickable frogs chirp all night in the tar pits of the dub that time forgot.

 
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