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Animal Collective
Campfire Songs Lee Arizuno , January 29th, 2010 05:30

Getting it together in the countryside has long been part of the Animal Collective ethos. Look again at some of those titles: Grass, Feels, Strawberry Jam; rustic re-sensitisation written in. Panda Bear’s celebrated Person Pitch was their most direct paean to just that, both lyrically (with its tales of coming off antidepressant pills and settling into family life abroad) and musically (its disordered take on folk-pop suggesting a city-hyped mind adjusting to space and silence). But as its title might imply, the newly reissued Campfire Songs – an early, under-heard recording conceived of as a reaction to their troubled maiden tour – is its purest manifestation.

Recorded live on a rural Maryland porch, ambient sounds from outside included, it comprises five songs, some too slight to really suit the term. This is a far cry from the full-force, technicolour Collective of recent years, and its appeal will be more selective, to say the least. The overall impression a first listen gives is of a single song from Person Pitch coming into being, at 16rpm, over the course of forty minutes. The sustained strum-offs and enigmatic emphases are familiar, but passed around the porch at leisure. Somehow, though, it seduces some of us. The lo-fi recording technique unexpectedly creates a crystal world: what should be plain old swimming pool acoustics transform ‘Doggy’, a song that might have been mawkish played straight and on time, into something weird and weightless; enchanted, even. As on many of their finer moments, the vocals throughout Campfire Songs will always be half-heard: illegible but tangible, a pleasing presence without a message to impart. ‘Queen In My Pictures’ presents a series of vocal tones preparing for flight, while a guitar flutters its feathers; both soon lock into a peculiar, possibly Steve Reich-inspired rhythm pattern, sustaining a sense of take-off for a good five minutes.

But if this is the least fractious Animal Collective have sounded, it’s not the least fractured: some of the long waits and breakdowns here test the patience. The strongest song, ‘De Soto De Son’, could be an even lower-fi cousin of one of Gareth Williams’ Flaming Tunes; there’s a mysterious minimalist drive to its simple arpeggios, perhaps informed by the capital-M US variety, perhaps by Indian music, perhaps by neither. It’s also the hardest hit, when a long, messy interlude including recordings of a storm breaks its spell. Still, you’ve always had to take the highs with the lows with this lot. Even at the other end of the spectrum, they hit comparable quality control issues (hence half of Merriweather Post Pavilion sounding like Tight Fit remixed by Orbital). As a document of bucolic time-stretching to take back to the city, Campfire Songs is a nevertheless a nifty piece of work.