Though this is the fourth album to be released under the group heading Animal Collective, you will be forgiven if you missed the earlier recorded works. Essentially a rather disparate four-piece, this particular manifestation of these abstract-folk nutters is the strange fruit of just two of their number. You should be aware of that one of these number calls themselves Panda Bear, and another member, less impressively, Avey Tare. Still, I suppose it beats being christened Brian Warner, hey Mr Manson?
So what about it? Well, Sung Tongs just might be the most compellingly outr� of records you’re likely to hear of this or any other year. Yes, reviewer-rescuing reference points abound, but Animal Collective strip any obvious influences free of limiting context. The overall effect is of some closed Appalachian community, blissful of the Industrial Revolution, happening upon some Space Race-era recording equipment fallen out of Apollo 13.
Luckily, the gadgetry just happens to have a power sour and a reel-to-reel of Brian Wilson Smile outtakes. The community leaders hail the recordings as prophetic whispers from the after-life, and commission the village minstrels to compose a set of madrigals as fearful homage. It really is that freaky. But, as cultish transcendentalism goes, it pretty much knocks spotty robes off The Polyphonic Spree.
You Could Win A Rabbit is half-remembered Sunday School chanting that just about convinces you that Morris Dancing is a worthwhile pursuit, and contains enough furry nonsense lyrics that one suspects that Lewis Carroll could be the group’s spiritual advisor. And this is the single.
Many of these sung tongs begin and end without forewarning, and some begin again when it seems as though their work is done. The tracks function as textures, with structure generally a distraction. Winters Love begins as an edit of intangible lo-fi yearning, before returning as a sweetened acoustic-led set of yodels and incomprehensible laments. Like much of this record, it shouldn’t work, but it does.
The travelogue of Kids On Holiday actually risks intelligible lyrics. Though when lines like “she’s got spit in her napkin” and “there’s a boy who’s a Krishna / And he thinks you look pretty” poke out of the campfire production, they succeed only in deepening the already viscous mystique.
We Tigers is a triumph of hex-casting and baleful animism that might summon your dead pets from their grave. In a good way. If Alan Lomax had been strung out on peyote, these are the kind of field recordings he would have curated.
He might’ve run off back to civilization though if he’d heard Whaddit I Done, or had to endure all of Visiting Friends. One can’t imagine what kind of friends the Animal Collective dropped in on but I suspect they were shown the door after 11 or so minutes of this meandering, while Whaddit I Done is a soundtrack for lobotomising.
Even considering those, Sung Tongs is a record that you don’t want your less imaginative friends to hear you listening to, lest they whisk you off to the funny farm. But unlike many less inclusive experimental works, Sung Tongs doesn’t coast on any specious curiosity ticket. Sung Tongs welcomes all comers. Whether they’ll allow you to leave again is another matter.
It’s highly likely that Animal Collective is a bunch of clever-clever studio boffins, and all this bucolic beatitude is a big put-on. But really, who cares anyway? Sung Tongs engenders nuff’empathy for these engaging folk-devils.