All bands have their beginnings; in the case of Animal Collective, it was one rooted in humbleness and experimentation. For many years after the start of their career the sentiment has remained the same: A group of friends working either together or solo to experiment with different sounds of psychedelic music and create their own brand of weirdo rock. Their first release Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished is no exception to this. Originally released in the year 2000 as a collaboration between the main Animal Collective masterminds, Panda Bear and Avey Tare, the record would eventually become known as the first release from the Baltimore musicians. It was a bizarre record that went by mostly unnoticed, yet it is often hailed as one of the greatest moments in the band’s catalogue. But why? Why is it that this particular piece of experimentation is so deeply rooted in the hearts of people who wouldn’t come across this record until years after its release?
Animal Collective’s legacy fittingly begins with “Spirit They’ve Vanished,” a track filled with spacey synthesizers and glitches as the vocals take on a haunting robotic tone. However it is “April and the Phantom” that truly brings the record to its start. It’s no surprise the track has become such a staple in the band’s catalogue, as it’s the first example of the group’s brand of psychedelic pop. Bubblegum melodies fill the background as jangly guitars and the lo-fi drum production mix with the sudden burst of anger and energy in the vocals. It’s an example of the band’s experimentation with the bizarre and the poppy.
The true masterpieces of the record come with the longer songs. Experimentation meets a calm environment of balladry in “Penny Dreadfuls” while “Chocolate Girl” and “La Rapet” are examples of Animal Collective’s ability to inject psychedelic music into pop music.
However it should still be noted that due to the record being recorded away from the eyes of many, the members were, at the time, given too much power of experimentation. The instrumental pieces “[untitled]” and “Everyone Whistling” are pure escapades into a world of noise that feel out of place in the context of the record. The band can almost feel too overindulgent, with the closer “Alvin Row” being a beautiful piece of music that could have easily been executed in half its 12-minute time.
You can’t really blame them though. Their goal at the end of the day was to experiment with sounds. If anything, the pop moments are the true anomaly in this record – something unexpected, something that came along with the already-blossoming songwriting of Panda Bear and Avey Tare. At the end of the day they are both pop songwriters with an affinity for the bizarre. The precedent for the group’s later work is set in stone here. Merriweather Post Pavilion‘s venture into pop music can be traced back to this, as can Sung Tongs‘ more bizarre moments. Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished is a record of not so humble beginnings.