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Bringing The Balmy & Barmy To Life: Animal Collective's ODDSAC Reviewed
Daniel Ross , May 11th, 2010 11:47

Daniel Ross takes in Animal Collective's new visual album at the ICA, and suggests that to take the Baltimore band too seriously is to miss the point altogether

Animal Collective's ascent over the past few years has led them to fill the large Forums, Academies and various phone-sponsored venues of the land. Though they’ve thrived in such arenas, it’s perhaps not too strong to say that they’re better appreciated in smaller spaces. Sloping into a tiny screening room at the ICA for an advance showing/hearing of ODDSAC, their new ‘visual album’, therefore, it’s clear the closer the ceiling is, the more effective the sound. But what of their vision in the potentially pitfall-strewn project of this much-discussed visual album?

ODDSAC is a series of occasionally connected scenes directed and visualised by Danny Perez, and scored by Animal Collective. From the title and factual description alone, you’d be forgiven for assuming that this consists of deliberately indigestible wackiness. It begins as it means to go on, a girl tearing at a skanky wall until a thick, black goop emerges from it, while a monster with a towel on his head plays an autoharp. All the while, Animal Collective’s score lends body and tension – glimpses of orange hexagons are accompanied by an oscillating sound that becomes increasingly intertwined with the image. It’s perhaps not looking good, though, when two ladies leave the screening room, laughing.

Things then take a decidedly odd turn. A lengthy middle section references some bizarre cinematic touchstones – a vampire rows gently on a cave-enclosed lake a la Phantom Of The Opera, for example. A scene in which someone that looks remarkably like AC's Geologist washes some monster eggs in a stream is peppered with cliché – second-long cut-aways to nightmarish visuals are scored with similarly nightmarish noise: it’s effective, if a trifle silly.

The grainy film stock works in the piece’s favour, particularly as the pace accelerates. Images emerge from bacterial clouds of colour, a J. Mascis look-alike constructs a drum kit on a rocky beach, and then the vampire comes back for more. Whether we’re supposed to connect these similar-looking characters is unclear, but by this point they’ve started to look strangely beautiful. Visually, it’s akin to a TROMA arthouse feature with added Nosferatu references which, you’ll agree, is quite an entertaining prospect.

A faintly stupid finale completes proceedings in a very suitable fashion (the chap with the Autoharp is back, but this time he’s chucking paint around), and rams home the fact that this is not supposed to be taken all that seriously. As their star has risen in the independent music community, a lot of the fun has been removed from our Animal Collective’s music – the reverence in which they’re held detracting from the playful sensibility that runs through their work. ODDSAC, then, is a reminder that Animal Collective can be enjoyed and appreciated for their brightness, not endlessly dissected or over-analysed. Danny Perez’s influence makes for some disjoin, but our musical directors remain purely devoted to delivering riveting accompaniment. Small rooms, low ceilings, images both balmy and barmy combine with the music to wonderful effect, whether or not you’re fishing for cod-psychedelia.