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HEAR YE: Animal Collective Strawberry Jam

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PET SOUNDZ: Animal Collective Waves The Freak Flag

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BY JONATHAN VALANIA Back in college ó which was longer ago than I care to admit, so letís just say some time after the Earth cooled but before the Internet ó I lived in an old Victorian house that the college owned and subdivided into separate apartments. It was a gathering house for all the freaks and geeks who didnít quite blend in with the frat-boy-cheerleader-chug-a-lug-date-rape ethos of the main campus. Across the hall my neighbors had set up a de facto commune of 24/7 hacky-sack drum-circling and druggy bird-dogging. Most of the guys living there werenít even enrolled. They all had sophomoric stoner-rific nicknames ó Andy Crack, Stinker, Wild Bill, Bleep ó and they all looked like they lived underwater. Almost nobody knew how to play an instrument, but these guys were gonna start a band. ďWhatever you say, Hippie Pants,Ē I thought to myself. They were gonna call themselves the Gooney Birds after the sheet of primo blotter theyíd scored at a recent Dead show. While I went to classes, these guys woodshedded day and night, nourished only by an Evian bottle filled to the brim with liquid LSD. By the end of the semester the bottle was empty and these guys were making some of the most jaw-droppingly mesmerizing folk-based psych Iíd ever heard. They sounded like the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey looks. Fuck me, I thought. Itís like they mutated a couple steps up the food chain.
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I canít help but think something similar happened to the men of Animal Collective during their formative_animal-collective-feels.jpg years. Theyíve known each other since high school. They all have stoner-rific nicknames: Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Geologist, Deaken. From the sound of things, I wouldnít be surprised to learn they too had a private stock of that Evian elixir when they first took up instruments. Seven albums into their career, Animal Collective have become a cause celebre among the freak-folk meritocracy, creating some of the most stunningly original and indescribably otherworldly music since, well, the acid hit the punk rock some time around the Meat PuppetsĎ Up on the Sun and HŁsker DŁís Flip Your Wig.When it comes to pedigree, Animal Collective cover their paw tracks with six degrees of sonic separation, mutating sound over and over again until it sounds quite ordinary-if you live on Neptune. And they have two great tricks that canít be easily dismissed: First, they somehow make music that continues to morph even when itís set in stone on CD. (Iíve listened to Feels about 18 times, and I swear to God not one nanosecond of it ever sounds the same twice.) Second, their unwavering refusal to be serious is what makes them so profound.[Illustration by ALEX FINE]
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LA DOLCE VITA: Simone Pets Panda Bear

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simone.thumbnail.jpgDear Phawker Friends,
This is foreign correspondent Simone Secci speaking. Iím back in Italy — I left Philly, the States and a promising career in food preparation in a quiet Philadelphia suburb for outrageously expensive Rome and an outrageously unorganized Italian university, to achieve a useless degree in cinema studies. So even here in the tiny little boot, where everybody in South Philly thinks weíre all Sicilian, we get to have indie rock shows and at one of this shows I got the opportunity to meet ANIMAL COLLECTIVE’s Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear.


PHAWKER: How are you?

PANDA BEAR: Pretty good thank you, last night we played in this place a little bit outside Venice and it went pretty well, lots of people came to talk with us after the show.

PHAWKER: Listening to the new record, Strawberry Jam, I had the feeling it has two separate souls: Oneanimal-collective-urb-2007.jpg more pop, meaning songs with a more traditional structure, and another one more experimental. What do you think about it?

PANDA BEAR: Well, I can see what you mean with that. If I think about a song like ďChores,Ē I can see that some songs sound more experimental, but they have anyway a defined structure as well as some others that sound more pop. We wrote the record in a lot of different places, so thatís why it sounds a little bit all over the place, but for example in terms of the lyrics I feel like this is the album that has a more united theme structure.


PHAKWER: How is it difficult to keep a style people can recognize, changing your direction very often as well as arrangements and line up?

PANDA BEAR: Not really. We write our music in a very spontaneous way, without any predefined idea. Itís not something really mental, you know? We just work on the songs really hard until weíre happy with what we have and thatís basically it. When a song doesnít work we all know it. In those cases you just have to start again thinking about the song and how to solve the problems that can come out. Itís not something easy to explain because as I said itís a very natural process.


PHAWKER: Speaking which, I always asked myself the reason of all the line up changes, even though the people playing in the band are always the same?


PANDA BEAR: Weíve always been friends together, and weíve always respected each others’ choices, like going to school and other things happening in moments of our life and that was never a problem for us to accept that kind of things. This is the way we have always collaborated and made music together.


pandagetsbill.gifPHAWKER: Do you think that had ever influenced the music somehow?

PANDA BEAR: You mean the presence of some people in the band?

PHAWKER: Yes.

PANDA BEAR: Iím sure it did. I couldnít say how but itís pretty obvious it did. We are all individuals with a very strong musical personality — like in this tour for example, Josh is not with us and I think I can feel that in the sound of the band. He has a very strong and defined style when he plays guitar, and I think you can hear that, his absence I mean . . . but itís a positive thing because this is the way has always been and it has always been a characteristic of the band.


PHAWKER: Letís talk about what happened when you found out that some of the songs of the new album where available for download on the peer-to-peer websites. Did that change your point of view about the whole downloading thing?

PANDA BEAR: Not really. You canít really stop the technology, you know? I was just disappointed these people couldnít listen to the whole album the way we recorded. Also downloading mp3s, it kills that entire process of excitement of waiting for the record to be out and then buying it and having a physical object in your hands, with the artwork and everything. But the idea behind the band is transmitting the music to the people and I think it reached them this way so Iím not gonna cry for the downloading. I downloaded music in the past, it can be useful you can find a lot of rare stuff.


PHAWKER: I think itís also the results of how in the last 15 years the major companies had pushed thepandaposter.jpg price of the records to the limit, without really proposing anything interesting.

PANDA BEAR: Yeah that surely contributes to it but I donít think you can really force the people to listen to certain things and I think that lately had come out a new willingness to listen to different things. Itís not so drastic as in the ’90s, they pass from hair metal to listen to much more interesting things like Nirvana, but you can see it. A band, a phenomenon like that didnít happen yet, maybe one of our friendís band we really hope they will have that success.


PHAWKER: Are you able to live off your music at the moment?

PANDA BEAR: Yeah, now weíre able to support ourselves and our families with the music and Iím really happy about it. Itís probably something that influenced the sound of the new album a little. We are more relaxed, I feel the sound is a little less aggressive than in the past.


PHAWKER: Recently speaking with Chris Leo from The Vague Angels, we were talking about the fact that now since itís pretty much impossible to live off the profits of the records, people play more for passion in a more pure way, since the most part of the people canít live off their music.

PANDA BEAR: Maybe thatís true. For us the most part of the earning comes from playing live. Iím sure that there are a lot of bands around really passionate about their music that are just trying to make the best music they possibly can.


PHAWKER: Well that was enough for me. Thanks, Noah, it was great talking with you.

PANDA BEAR: Thanks to you. Was great talking about music with you.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Simone is from Italy, and as such English is his second language. While he doesnít always use it the Ďrightí way, he usually gets where he wants to go. As a service to our English-speaking readers, we will run his reviews in larger type to simulate talking LOUDÖANDÖSLOWLY.

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