I changed all your words but my poltergeist concurs that words aren't even necessary right now

I like to imagine what it would have been like to be brought to this show not knowing what you were going to hear.  

There would be this moment when the two performers come on stage and the audience explodes in rapture.  Obviously this is some immensely popular band that somehow you've never heard of.  Then they sit on folding chairs behind the mics and pick up their acoustic guitars, and for a second you get this very strong Simon & Garfunkel vibe.  All this fuss for a pair of folk singers?

All that goes away in the opening moments, as this reverberating, echoing, throbbing wall of voice comes out of the speakers, two voices compressed into an incomprehensible spinning spheroid of sonic energy, charged particles boiling off it into the darkness, and...is the audience singing along?  And then at the end everyone around you is crying out "Kitties!" and "Meow!"  As Thomas Pynchon wrote, it is difficult to tell precisely what the fuck is happening here.

The two men are Avey Tare (not his real name) and Panda Bear (also not his real name), and they are two of four kids who grew up in Baltimore listening to the Grateful Dead and Can and combing record stores for the weirdest music they could find.  It was by all accounts a happy childhood.  At some point there were psychedelic drugs.  Two of them, when they were fourteen, actually saw the Grateful Dead.  Under the name Animal Collective, the four of them have made record after record of intensely strange music over the last 16 years. 

They released Sung Tongs in 2004.  In the fifteen years since then, according to Nielsen Soundscan, it has sold 27,000 copies.  That's almost two thousand copies a year!

But Sung Tongs is a lot like the first Velvet Underground record:  Everybody who bought a copy seems to have formed their own band.  The wave of experimental indie bands that includes Real Estate, the Dirty Projectors, MGMT, and some I've covered here (Grizzly Bear, tUnE-yArDs) were all given permission to be as weird as they could be by this record.

It's not just about being weird, is the thing.  This is a record that gets its hooks in you.  There are long, slow, quiet movements, and swirls of sound that cast off these lovely filaments, harmonies that resolve beautifully and lyrics that either bring back thoughts of childhood or make no sense whatsoever, and the more time you spend with it, the more it sounds right.

Which in the end is what I love the most about this video.  There's this segment of atonal, scrabbling guitar that makes no sense at all, and the audience is losing its mind.  Then the scrabbling gives way to a single repeated chord and all of a sudden literally every person in the room is singing along to a song about kids piling into a car to go on vacation.  Everyone listening to that scrabbling guitar knew that the line "Here we come, Mr. Airplane" was in their immediate future, because they've all listened to this record hundreds of times.  If you put in the hours, this will all make sense.

I never put in the hours with Sung TongsMeriweather Post Pavilion is the Animal Collective grain of sand that's making pearls in my cortex.  So I've had a fair number of WTF moments with this video.  How...why... is someone crowdsurfing?  There were a lot of vocal moments I couldn't parse until I heard the original track and realized that those moments were originally samples, and that the two of them opted to perform them instead of playing them back.  "Visiting Friends" is this thirteen-minute-long two-chord jam in which it seems that nothing is happening but odd random bits of vocals, and the audience is holding on to every sound like they're receiving holy writ.

In the end, this reminds me of Dostoevsky's observation that man is the animal who can get used to anything.  However arbitrary this music sounds to fresh ears, it's knowable.  It's embraceable.  You can get used to it.  It can move into your brain and make itself at home.  I know for me there was a time in my life when I'd never heard "We Tigers." That time is now behind me, and it has changed me, even if the extent of the change is just that I can listen to "We Tigers" and feel lifted instead of assaulted.


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