ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: SUNG TONGS (FAT CAT RECORDS, 2004)

My intro to Animal Collective, coinciding with significant buzz around what some were calling “freak folk,” others were referring to as “the New Weird America.” Sung Tongs is definitely resonant with some of that stuff (see: Devendra Banhart, Espers, Sunburned Hand of the Man, etc.), though it’s also got vestiges of the band’s earlier, more abstract noodling, while simultaneously feinting toward the neo-hippie-crowd-pleasing path they’d embrace later on.

14 years and many stadium tours later, this is still a great album. Many of the uptempo songs (which is most of ‘em) come across like a skewed recontextualization of the Beach Boys (with occasional nods to more global influences (“Sweet Road,” e.g.)) — it’s got that same kind of ecstatic embrace of simple major-key melodies and complicated vocal interplay, but then forced through a haze of off-kilter instrumentation and studio wackiness. The effect is weirdly catchy and awfully endearing. That’s balanced, though, by more pastoral moments (“The Softest Voice,” “Visiting Friends,” “Mouth Wooed Her”), where sweet voices — sometimes effects-laden, sometimes not — swoop around lazily over freely strummed acoustic gtrs and bubbling electronics. Personal favorite cut “We Tigers” sounds like a summer-camp soundtrack — with pounding tom-toms, wordless “whoops” and insistent falsetto harmonizing — before suddenly shifting, out of nowhere, into some vocal hocketing that’s gotta be a nod to the Ramayana Monkey Chant. Killer.

I probably haven’t listened to this record in almost a decade — how awesome that it’s still every bit as thrilling as it was back then…

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