'Hollinndagain' Again

At rest in a sylvan meadow: The members of Animal Collective
Courtesy of the Windish Agency

Animal Collective
Paw Tracks

Scarcity—and its elimination—played a major role in Hollinndagain's upcoming reissue. The absolute grail of Animal Collective fans since its 2002 release in a vinyl-only edition of 300, the band's only live album was an obsession-breeding fetish object. For those unwilling to spend hundreds of dollars on eBay, the group has released this affordable version. Price notwithstanding, it offers an exhilarating glimpse into the hive mind of an entity whose shows have always been private rituals conducted under public auspices.

Opener "I See You Pan" oozes up out of silence with a pair of found male voices processed to resemble walkie-talkie transmissions from insect-alien deities. One apparently has a vocoder implant in his throat; the other might be up to no good. They are stand-ins for a meadow's worth of crickets, a chittering carpet for David Portner's vocal melody (and some sort of flutey sound) to float above as he sings the line "I see you Pan" with a gravity worthy of Leontyne Price. It's the last intelligible lyric until the close of equally pastoral "Forest Gospel," but lyrical clarity matters less in these woods than the band's command of texture and dynamics. The song is connected to the track "Pride and Fight," and they both abound with feathery pulses, swelling crescendos, and guitar-driven feral tween stompfests (no cannibals allowed!).

Make no mistake, Hollinndagain is full of songs. Sure, multi-instrumentalists Portner, Noah Lenox, and Brian Weitz (Josh Dibbs was on sabbatical when these tracks were recorded) employ supple structures, sometimes stretching a single verse beyond the time period allotted for most pop tunes. But despite the many drum circles and neo-jam bands they've inspired over the past six years, they're as disciplined as any classical ensemble, and can make thoroughly composed material seem spontaneous. Sure, the trio improvises a bit from time to time. But they always know where they're going—even if we don't.

Plus, the band is awfully good with melody, consistently hewing to complexity and richness. Take away the wildly fluttering electronic squeals, whirs, dronelets, outbursts, and explosions, and "Pumpkin Gets a Snakebite" could anchor a Broadway musical—or a Vegas lounge singer's closing set. Replace eerie electronics, underwater burbling, and contained caterwauls with piano or strings, and "Lablakey Dress" could make a fine piece of chamber music.

But that's hardly unusual. The band has always been a formalist adventure at heart, driven by the same profound love of mystery, nature, and tonal color that moved kindred spirits like Claude Debussy to tweak musical parameters in the days of the Late Romantics. Difference is, Animal Collective is later, more romantic, and, live, a hell of a lot more rambunctious. Plus, Debussy just emulated the gestures of faraway cultures; Animal Collective are helping to create a new one. When the time comes—and it will—hearing Kronos Quartet try to cover these fuckers is going to be a hoot.

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