Animal Collective are one of the most critically lauded bands of recent times. They have also changed styles almost with every album; from the abrasive noise music of Danse Manatee to the blissful pop of Merriweather Post Pavilion. In this playlist I’ve tried to highlight their some of their best songs and give a good selection of some of their different stylistic eras at the same time. Here’s a handy YouTube playlist so you can listen while you read.
Far and away their most popular and well known song, “My Girls” was the lead single from their most successful album, 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Mainly built around a single synth arpeggio, the song’s simplicity reflects singer/drummer Panda Bear’s lyrics: “There isn’t much that I feel I need/A solid soul and the blood I bleed”.
The lead single from their latest album, Centipede Hz, “Today’s Supernatural” is a manic carnivalesque waltz which always seems to be on the edge of falling apart completely. The song’s propulsive energy is mainly generated by Panda Bear’s absolutely relentless kit playing.
“Doggy” is the second track from their third album, Campfire Songs. Recorded on a porch in Maryland, the song is a heart-breaking account of the death of a beloved pet. The song showcases the band’s knack for writing simple childlike songs which nevertheless have a lot more substance under the surface.
My favourite track from their 2009 EP Fall Be Kind, “What Would I Want? Sky” is the first song to ever feature a Grateful Dead sample. The best thing about this song is the second half’s 7/4 time signature, which gives the song a wonderful lilt and fits perfectly with the three interlocking vocal lines.
In my opinion the most atmospheric and beautiful song Animal Collective have ever recorded, “Loch Raven” comes from their 2005 album Feels. Built on a few simple loops and full of whispered vocals, the only thing which shines through the mist is the repeated mantra of: “I will not give up on you”.
While not strictly an Animal Collective song, I’ve always liked this remix of “Love Like A Sunset”, a Phoenix song from their 2011 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. I really like the repetition of the line: “Right where is starts it ends” and the vocal lines that come in around the two minute mark.
Hidden away on their throwaway 2006 EP People, “Tikwid” is one of my favourite Animal Collective songs. While definitely inhabiting one of their stranger sound worlds, I really like the chorus of “Tikwid”; a wonderful little melody which seems to come out of nowhere.
Taken from their 2010 Visual Album ODDSAC, this sequence gradually builds from the subdued tones of “Working”, eventually erupting into the percussive madness of “Tantrum Barb”.
Coming from a standalone EP released in 2012 in the lead up to their most recent album, “Honeycomb” showcases the band at their most frenetic. Featuring a characteristically twisting melody from lead singer Avey Tare, the song builds towards a climactic repetition of: “Life/Hive”.
From their 2008 EP Water Curses, “Street Flash” is a languid song which tells of Avey Tare’s restorative walk through the city after feeling trapped and depressed indoors.
The oldest song on this list, “April & The Phantom” comes from their first album (before they were even called Animal Collective). While the song is recorded somewhat weirdly, some of the hallmarks of their style can already be heard: the nursery rhyme inspired melodies, energetic outbursts and a atmospheric textures.
In their live shows Animal Collective often rework older songs from previous albums in their new style or medley them with newer songs. This medley of “Fireworks” from Strawberry Jam and “Essplode” from Danse Manatee is my favourite example of this element of their live show.
Another song from Merriweather Post Pavilion, “Guys Eyes” is my favourite Animal Collective song. It somehow manages to make what sounds like two songs playing at the same time seem like a completely natural and obvious way to make a pop song.