The strange, shimmering star at the center of the early 2000s psych-pop revival, Animal Collective garnered both critical plaudits and rabid, devoted acolytes by blending Brian Wilson-esque vocal harmonies with spaced-out instrumentation, tribal percussion and odd ribbons of sound.
As their name implies, the group is more a loose aggregation of performers rather than a standard rock band.
Each of the members assumes a kind of nom de psych under which they record: David Portner is Avey Tare, Noah Lennox is Panda Bear, Josh Dibb is Deacon and Brian Weitz calls himself Geologist. The names add an air of both mystery and personality to an already bizarre and singular group. It’s music is defined by a sonic restlessness, and an ability to change sounds and styles — sometimes radically — from album to album.
The group’s four members attended the same high school in Baltimore (Dibb and Lennox had gone to middle school together, as well). All of the members had been dabbling in music individually up to that point — Lennox had even put together a cassette of his music with hand-drawn panda bears on the cover. Upon graduation, Lennox and Dibb went to Boston to attend college, while Portner and Weitz went to New York.
Lennox moved to New York in 2000 for an ill-fated relationship, and reconnected with his former bandmates. It was around this time the group began their sound experiments in earnest, gathering in a room and assembling 40-minute sound collages. In August, Portner and Lennox released, Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, an album that would eventually come to be considered the group’s debut. The album consisted primarily of songs Portner had written from 1997 through 1999, with various instrumental contributions from Lennox. The group’s first proper show was in September of that year at a venue called The Cooler. During these early shows, the group would wear masks during early live shows, which helped to further obscure their identities.
The following year, the group released the Danse Manatee EP, the first album to feature contributions by Weitz, on the Catsup Plate label. They also embarked on a brief tour with friends Black Dice in 2001, which met with varying levels of success. They released two EPs in 2003: Campfire Songs, which consisted of five songs recorded live on a porch in Montana, and Here Comes the Indian, which was described by the group as an experiment in freeform, open-ended songwriting, and marked the first time all four members worked together on their material. But following a tour that was plagued by a series of mechanical and personal failures, Weitz decided to attend graduate school, telling the other members of the band that “the era was over, I was heading to the desert for a full year.”
By the time he returned, Lennox and Portner had completed material that would become 2004’s Sung Tongs (Dibb had taken on work as a carpenter, and wasn’t present for many of these sessions). It was on this record that the group’s approach began to change, moving away from radical experimentalism and more toward a concrete, song-based approach. When Weitz finished graduate school, he and Dibb re-joined the group for the making of Feels, although at around this time, Lennox moved briefly to Lisbon. Many of his contributions to the record were made long-distance. It was on a tour in support of this record that the group met iconic folk musician Vashti Bunyan, with whom they collaborated on the Prospect Hummer EP.
2007 saw the release of two of the group’s most immediate projects: Panda Bear’s solo outing Person Pitch which boasted breakthrough single “Bro’s,” and the dreamy Strawberry Jam. The latter marked a step-up for the group from small indie Carpark to the larger Domino label, home to groups like Arctic Monkeys. More than previous releases, Jam put a greater emphasis on Tare’s vocals, and felt more like a full-band effort than the releases that preceded it. The group had rented a house just outside of Tuscon for Jam in the hopes of capturing what they termed a “desert” feel. In October of 2007 they made their television debut, performing “#1” on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
The early part of the decade found the group steadily gathering steam, and the end of it found them reaping their rewards: 2009 proved the most successful year in the band’s history. The group (minus Dibb, who had taken time off for personal reasons) released Merriweather Post Pavilion, named for a Maryland concert venue, to immediate critical accolades and commercial success (the album peaked at Number Thirteen on the Billboard charts). The remainder of the year was spent touring, including a high-profile stint at Lollapalooza. At the end of the year, Merriweather had topped a number of critics best lists, including the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop poll. The group continues to cultivate an active and dedicated fanbase, making frequent appearances on the “Collected Animals” message board to answer fan questions directly.