Parsing the Mysterious Lyrical Challenges of the Animal Collective, This Year's "New Radiohead"
The members of Animal Collective are from Baltimore, New York and Lisbon. Their real names are David Portner, Noah Lennox, Josh Dibb and Brian Weitz; they record under the respective pseudonyms Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin and Geologist. (Deakin is no longer in the band — except when he is.) Presumably, none of them has fur. They’ve released nine albums since 2000, along with three EPs and several solo records each.
Their latest effort, Merriweather Post Pavilion, was bestowed with a 9.6 by indie kingmaker Pitchfork, along with similarly effusive raves from nearly all the influential magazines and blogs. Both of their local dates — the Henry Fonda on the 23rd and the Troubadour on the 24th — are sold out. They give few interviews, and to call their lyrics cryptic would be charitable.
The following guide attempts to wring meaning from their philosophy. Sure, some might call their lyrics “nonsensical stoned gibberish,” but that’s missing the point. If the hype is to be believed, in order to understand the American Apparel generation, one must turn to its Rosetta Stone: Merriweather Post Pavilion. Well, at least until the next Arcade Fire record.
There isn’t much that I feel I need/A solid soul and the blood I bleed/With a little girl, and by my spouse/I only want a proper house. —from “My Girls”
Little-known fact: Panda Bear is a devoted acolyte of cable station TLC’s My First Home. The band donated 3 percent of the proceeds from its debut, Here Comes the Indian, to Jimmy Carter’s Habitat for Humanity.
I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things like social stats/I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls. —from “My Girls”
An epiphany gleaned the first time Animal Collective ever got high. They ordered Chinese food and watched the Doors movie. Later that seminal afternoon, they conceived the song’s title during a TBS broadcast of My Girl. The trauma surrounding Macaulay Culkin’s death explains why they have never inducted a “bee” member.
Face your money into the dark/But you can’t sweat, unless swung by the hen. —from “Also Frightened”
The first line trenchantly critiques economic extravagance and risk-taking in the late Bush era. It’s a point personally pertinent to the Geologist, who was recently duped in a Ponzi scheme by a slick-talking Nigerian businessman promising new head lanterns for their stage show. The second, sweaty-henned line refers to a tense and ancient altercation between Panda Bear and a female chicken. Said dispute was settled by a dance-off to a Carl Stalling Looney Tunes score.
Two bottles at three/covered with leaves/with mud they’ll make Prince on their back. —from “Also Frightened”
A subtle play on Borat’s euphemistic “Make sexy time”; Animal Collective call carnal knowledge “making Prince.” This refers to both the diminutive funk legend and the Spin Doctors song “Two Princes.”
If the wind is threatening/maybe I should bathe them. —from “Also Frightened”
In his spare time, Avey Tare pursues his hobby of antiquarianism. The line was purloined from a 1772 copy of Poor Richard’s Almanac.
The entirety of “Summertime Clothes.”
Four-and-a-half minutes devoted to the necessity of wearing exclusively white between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
I’m getting lost in your curls. —from “Bluish”
A playful taunt directed at Animal acolytes who allege that 2007’s Strawberry Jam is meant to be looped in sync with the 1935 Shirley Temple vehicle Curly Top — specifically its hit musical number, “Animal Crackers in My Soup.”
I really want to do just what my body wants to/I really want to do just what my body needs to/I really want to show to my girl that I want her/If I could just purge all the urges that I have and keep them for you. —from “Guys Eyes”
The band has been tightlipped about this passage. Message-board rumors attempted to peg it to a subway-flashing incident in New York City. Such innuendo cannot be confirmed or substantiated.
If I don’t change your ways/we will always be at the tasty place/And you can cook a rose but I don’t eat those. —from “Taste”
Cooked roses are not delicious.
I locked my bones and trapped my feet/I told them I formed a place to be/and stuck like candy in your teeth . it’s what I hope for/No more runnin’/No more runnin’/No more runnin’. —from “No More Runnin’”
Speaks to both the narcotized euphoria of domestic bliss and the epistemological limits of running; specifically, how much running is too much running, will such physical exertion cause shin splints, and which marathon is best: Honolulu, Boston, New York or Los Angeles?
Animal Collective performs at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theatre on Friday, January 23, and at the Troubadour on Saturday, January 24.
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