Danse Manatee is pretty widely recognized as Animal Collective’s sophomore slump. Originally released in 2001 on Catsup Plate, the album was reissued as a double album along with their well-received debut Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished on FatCat Records in 2003. This re-release only serves to more greatly point out the contrasting qualities of the two albums, with Danse Manatee again falling short.
Avey Tare (David Portner) and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) were joined by newest member Geologist (Brian Weitz) on their second album. In true Animal Collective form, many songs were previously recorded, retired, and then reissued. For the reissue with Spirit, the boys were fortunate enough to have the expert hand of Sung Tongs producer Rusty Santos for remastering. The dual re-release was a welcome one, as the production value desperately needed some fine-tuning for an already noise-laden album.
Speaking of noise, one of the gripes heard most from Animal Collective haters is that their songs are “just noise”; to these skeptics, please stay far away from Danse Manatee if you ever want to be able to give this talented group a chance. While their debut was moving and exciting, and many of their releases since have been equally if not more awesome, Danse Manatee is perhaps too out there. An overuse of synth, distortion, and disjointed sound effects caused somewhat of a fumbling jumble rather than a cohesive album.
That is not to say, however, that there is nothing redeeming to be taken away from this record. Among the mix of metallic noises are exciting tracks like the tribal “Runnin the Round Ball” and of course the poppy “Essplode” and vocal-centered “Meet the Light Child”. It is the tracks that seem haphazard and casually put together that are the biggest disappointments of the album; openers “A Manatee Dance” and “Penguin Penguin” immediately set the mood for chaotic, disorganized noise.
Perhaps the most disheartening thing about this record is that it doesn’t seem as intentional, as perfectly planned out as other Animal Collective releases. The album neither builds on itself nor on the previous release, and at times seems confused and impromptu. The messy, incoherent structure is what makes it a trial for the listener; even dedicated fans found themselves struggling through listen after listen, trying to “get” it.
If nothing else, this album gives us insight into where the Collective came from. Spirit introduced us to their talent and range; Manatee has introduced us to the dark, directionless side that just doesn’t fit perfectly into a neat little box. While this album is not the easiest to listen to and is certainly discouraging for those doubters of Avey, Panda, and Geologist’s abilities, it was a necessary experiment and stepping stone in the career of these forever-curious boundary-pushing musicians.