Music Reviews

TANGERINE REEF by Animal Collective

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Genre: Experimental Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Hair Cutter,” “Buxom,” “Palythoa”

Seeing as TANGERINE REEF is Animal Collective’s first full length without Panda Bear, it’s strange that the record opens with a track that sounds like the group wrote it in their golden years between 2007 and 2009. “Hair Cutter,” the record’s opener and lead single, has a mumbly quality reminiscent of FEELS’ “Loch Raven.”

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Like its predecessor, 2017’s MEETING OF THE WATERS EP, TANGERINE REEF is a record made in partnership with scientific art crew Coral Morphologic. The two psychedelic, environmentalist creative ensembles joined forces in order to try and alert fans to the environmental devastation being inflicted on the ocean by humans. TANGERINE REEF isn’t the first time Animal Collective has dabbled in high-art conservationism. The crew has also collaborated twice with vegan shoe brand Keep.

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Though the cover, accompanying visual album, and clearly established natural themes leave no question about what Avey Tare wants you to associate his lyrics with, it is more difficult to decipher Tare’s lyrics than on any previous Animal Collective record. Tare has shrouded his vocals in effects with tracks like “Moonjock,” and mumbled his heart out on cuts such as “Safer,” but never have his lyrics been as indecipherable as they are on TANGERINE REEF. Throughout the album, the bass-y synths and nature samples speak more for the record’s oceanic themes than any of the lyrics.

“Coral Understanding” and “Airpipe (To A New Transition)” are perfect examples of the album’s far-too-trippy mixing gone awry. Though the bubbly instrumentals clearly beg the listener to imagine that they are in an ocean trench, surrounded by the marvelous mysteries of the sea, Tare’s vocals alternate between undecodable and tribal. Though I know Tare, Deakin, and Geologist want fans to be appalled as we picture in our heads the Great Pacific pacific garbage patch suffocating cute fish, the lackluster vocals make me wonder if the record would have said more as an instrumental visual album. One of the few moments Avey’s words cut through is on “Palythoa,” one of the album’s standout songs. As Tare sings, “Lost in our hometown / She knows all of the warehouses,” it is clear that the record’s lyrical themes are more Bushwick than Marianas Trench. Though Avey Tare might not be able to craft a lyrical masterpiece about science, Deakin and Geologist are able to compose surprisingly evocative synthesizer compositions.

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It’s important to reiterate: TANGERINE REEF is the first without key member Panda Bear, and the absence of the empathetic misery that defines Noah Lennox’s songwriting is a noticeable loss. Though Tare has always taken the spotlight on AnCo records, the elusive moments where Panda Bear’s brilliance shone through were the fragments that turned the group’s experimental compositions into baroque pop songs. Without Panda Bear to breathe life into TANGERINE REEF, after the third track, listening to the album feels more like listening to William Basinski’s DISINTEGRATION LOOPS than it does PET SOUNDS. Lennox has always been the Lennon to David Portner’s McCartney, and TANGERINE REEF often feels like what would have happened if Paul, George, and Ringo had released a record written and recorded without John. Although it’s certainly an interesting concept, an AnCo record without Panda Bear’s golden, glowing Brian Wilson vocals is infinitely more challenging and less vibrant.

Ultimately, TANGERINE REEF is a fascinating and wholesome record by an iconic group of musicians that never becomes enjoyable. Though it is not even close to the weirdest Animal Collective record (DANSE MANATEE takes the cake), it is the most experimental Animal Collective record since they displayed their prowess as a trippy pop act in 2007. Unfortunately, TANGERINE REEF isn’t a hit, but it’s commendable to see Animal Collective try and make a concept album about fish and coral without a key member.

Ted Davis
Ted Davis is Music Editor of Merry-Go-Round Magazine, as well as a musician, and DJ from Virginia currently living in Northeast Los Angeles. He has put out work with the band Helanovela and on his own as DJ STEPDAD and Silk Gloves. He has performed with a number of artists including Dumbo Gets Mad and Blondie (long story).

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