In the early 2000’s, Animal Collective gained a cult following of fans for their experimental insistence, not only in samples and sound, but in form as well. A return to these stylistic choices, Meeting of the Waters, first released on vinyl for Record Store Day, then again online on April 22nd, and is their second EP length release so far this year.
Their patient style was potent in pieces such as Campfire Songs (2003) and Feels (2005). The band began to gain traction with Centipede Hz (2012) but when they released Painting With (2016) as a studio album, the ebb and flow of their music crashed hard. A few scathing reviews later, AnCo released The Painters this past February. Although these past albums were cavity-inducing caricatures of what fans thought that Animal Collective was, live performances served to prove that the band wasn’t totally off-base.
But when AnCo released Meeting of the Waters, the tide began to even out again. The EP was recorded along the Amazon River, as part of a Viceland documentary series, Earth Works. Avey Tare and the Geologist recorded this album live, incorporating sounds of the natural world to accompany dubbed samples and candid lyrics.
Rather than taking the same route as Painting With and crescendoing to ecstatic high points, the seething rainforest backdrop encouraged tranquil progressions and philosophic lyrics. The 13-minute opener, “Blue Noses,” was a brave immediate follow-up to their recent work, and set the scene for the naturalistic vibe of the EP. Although Avey and the Geologist recorded this alone, hissing bugs and rattling brush were an integral part of the band chemistry.
Breezy like the lyrics would suggest, Avey sings “Like a window // that blew open…” uses modernist, simplistic wording to describe a scene that is very Western. He goes on to sing, “drift like cotton // on a soft wind // … closed the window,” allowing his words to hang, languid among the guitar strumming on every beat. Avey’s voice begins to break as he channels his power through vocalizations, the final stanzas being strung-together syllables and animalistic, drawn out sounds. The guitar drifts out among reverberations of trees rustling, animal sounds and synthesizers, warping into something almost ominous – the forest growing dark.
The sounds led into “Man of Oil,” which began with reversed looping samples over echoing, rattly percussion. These non-conforming sounds all make sense when the guitar enters, this experimental track garners good enough pop sensibility to negotiate the stylistic gap between releases. Avey sings, “I woke to sweats in the night // strange sensation to feel alive. // I find it so hard to tell you, // I’m afraid to forget the smell of you.” He seems honest, and is able to avoid cliché, purely based on the rhythmic pattern and poetic break down of sentence structure.
Almost child-like, “Amazonawana / Anaconda Opportunity” follows with echoing flute-like sounds, retro record skips and Space Invaders laser beams, but quickly slips into a CocoRosie-esque lo-fi symphony. The percussion crunches lightly while some sort of squawking animalistic sound (unsure of whether it may actually be one of them) leads the listener into the next section. Radio sounds and voice samples loop and wiggle over a light ringing over the sound of water running, a fly buzzing by, and the Geologist’s sonic explorations.
Finally, the genuinity of the album is even more apparent within “Selection of a Place (Rio Negro Version).” Avey’s lyrics are reminiscent of Thoreau, if he were in a pop band. They describe the connection between children and the natural world that is apparent within Romanticism (“Easy like a child running // open on some plain… laying on clay tile, restless // little old prints of some old shepherd // thinking of the places we want…”). Suddenly the calm is broken by rough, scratchy sounds, blending with high pitched bird sounds and Avey humming.
Meeting of the Waters is an intimate, kindred, and delicate album that has derailed, in some ways, from the works of their later career thus far. Overall the EP is gaining positive attention within the AnCo fanbase, causing listeners to be tentatively positive for more, similar releases.