Animal Collective, “Tangerine Reef”
During Animal Collective’s dominant run, they continuously remodeled their sound, calibrating their approach in fascinating ways. As such, many of their albums crafted wildly divergent soundscapes (compare the textured delicacy of Feels to the stubbornly unpolished Centipede Hz) while still adhering to the same essential DNA. The common thread was a tendency to stuff songs to their bursting point, often resulting in frenzied exercises in maximalism. To listen to Animal Collective was to be overwhelmed by noises and feelings and ideas.
Given this pattern, the lack of feelings and ideas in Tangerine Reef feels particularly glaring. It does, however, have noises. Reef is a collaborative “audiovisual album” with Coral Morphologic, an art-science duo from Miami. Just as notable as their presence is the absence of Panda Bear, whose uncanny pop instincts are sorely missed. The intentions here—to commemorate the 2018 International Year of the Reef—are environmentally noble, but the songs collectively feel like a minor mood piece rather than the cohesive statement the band aspires to.
The effortless, three-dimensional texture of Animal Collective’s music is a major draw. Tangerine Reef understands this, and its finer moments are a product of that strength—“Hair Cutter”’s ethereal creep, the shimmering pulse of “Buffalo Tomato.” Too many of these songs go nowhere, though, grasping at a thin gimmick (like the bargain bin haunted house organ of “Inspector Gadget”) without bothering to flesh it out. Often, as with the woozy lurch of “Coral by Numbers,” the band gestures at a climactic payoff that simply never arrives. Other tracks, like the glitchy “Airpipe (To a New Transition)” have the right sense of chaos but none of the band’s usual vision, meandering toward their conclusions without much to show for it.
Of course, it is probably important to acknowledge that the band isn’t exactly aiming to replicate the technicolor swirl of “My Girls” here, so it isn’t entirely fair to judge the album for what it isn’t. But these songs provide so little to chew on, it’s not easy to pin down what it wants to be. The record works far better in conjunction with Coral Morphologic’s striking, fluorescent visuals than as a standalone musical composition. Still, mileage is limited; as arresting as the images are, they can’t make up for inscrutable songs. The best Animal Collective work can appear impenetrable at first glance, but will unfurl in warm and engaging ways. Too much of Tangerine Reef feels like ambient murk in service of nothing.