Animal Collective: Monkey Been to Burn Town

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Animal Collective’s 2012 album, Centipede Hz, suffered from almost impossible expectations as the band attempted to follow up the much-adored Merriweather Post Pavillion. Although Centipede Hz wasn’t hated, it was met with a general tone of disappointment and apathy, a critical and fan reaction that continues to confuse me. Although CHz may have lacked Merriweather’s penchant for “smart pop music” that straddles the line between intriguing experimentation and accessibility, it had its own strengths that made it new and bold for the band. Just about every song on the record possesses some sonic quirk that keeps the album humming despite its fairly lengthy runtime. And on Centipede their music sounds more organic and direct than it maybe ever has, bolstered mostly by the stellar guitar work and Avey Tare’s increased presence (when, in contrast, Merriweather was mostly a Panda Bear record). 

It is therefore appropriate that this remix focuses on a song that showcases both Deakin’s guitar work (a strong motif throughout the record) and Avey Tare’s unrestrained vocal work. “Monkey Riches” may not have been the consensus “favorite song” from the record ‒ that designation would probably fall to “Amanita” or “Applesauce,” though preferences are of course scattered. But it certainly is a song that presents some fascinating components ripe for remixing, be it the synth riff at the beginning or Avey’s periodical shrieking. 

Brian DeGraw’s remix leads off this four-track EP. DeGraw’s take on “Monkey Riches” presents a more sinister iteration of a song that was already pretty dark. The front half features a soft melody that could best be described as twisted carnival music and then shifts into a more basic electro-dance structure by the middle. Eventually Avey’s vocals enter the fray, nearly unchanged. While the retention of Avey’s vocals allow for an unimpeded chance to hear the song’s strong lyricism, the entire track ends up failing to bring anything particularly fresh or insightful to the original song. It’s not a bad seven minutes, but it never really proves why it deserves to be here. Tha Traxman Teklife’s remix, the next track, has a bit more life to it. The heightened tempo gives the song an even greater sense of unease and chaos. Overrun with sound effects, it works in a messy, exhausting way. 

Shabazz Palaces’s remix of “New Town Burnout” relies largely on percussive elements and cleverly utilizes the brief organ-like melody that repeats throughout the song. Much of what made the original song so good is torn away here, but luckily new elements are added to make it intriguing. The remix lacks the original’s really palpable sense of building desperation and sorrow. Yet Shabazz Palaces’s multi-instrumental hip-hop influence gives the song a danceable quality that ultimately works while still maintaining some of the song’s basic emotional resonance. It’s a strange eight minutes, and it certainly overstays its welcome. Ultimately, though, it comes  across as an inspired take on one of CHz’s best. The final remix of this quartet is another take on “Monkey Riches,” this time by Teengirl Fantasy. Teengirl’s take essentially magnifies every criticism of Centipede Hz, introducing sounds that could definitely be seen as grating, over-the-top, and off balance. Furthermore, it clearly shows a common criticism of the album that I actually agreed with: the production is disappointing. It is far from terrible, but just not on par with the crisp sound of previous records. Despite the flaws, it’s an engrossing track that still fails to bring new perspective on the original track. 

In the end, these four tracks aren’t quite essential and won’t make much of a dent in the Animal Collective catalogue. If anything, it may steer attention back toward Centipede Hz, which is quite possibly the most underrated of Animal Collectives LPs.

Rating: 5.6/10
MP3: Animal Collective “New Town Burnout (Shabazz Palaces Remix)”
Buy: iTunes

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