Ranked: Animal Collective Albums from Worst to Best
With the release of founding member Panda Bear's new album, we revisit the psych-rock group's full discography.
Panda Bear's new solo album, Tomboy, comes out this week. It's his fourth, but the fourteenth overall release from Animal Collective, the loosely aggregated group of psychedelic musicians who broke through with 2005's Feels. In celebration, we enlisted Matthew Perpetua, who founded the internet's first MP3 blog, Fluxblog, to rank the group's full discography (excluding EPs — we're not crazy).
14. Avey Tare and Kría Brekkan, Pullhair Rubeye (2007)
Out of all the full-length studio albums produced by Animal Collective's principal members, this is definitely the most unlistenable. Avey Tare recorded this album with his wife at the time, Kría Brekkan of the Icelandic band Múm. The entire set is presented with the audio in reverse, which is cute for a minute or so but totally aggravating after half an hour. You can find non-reversed versions of Pullhair Rubeye on the internet, but unfortunately it's not much more compelling when played forwards.
Listen: "Who Welles in My Hoff"
13. Panda Bear, Panda Bear (1998)
Panda Bear's first solo album, also the first official release to be associated with what would eventually become Animal Collective, is basically a set of home demos recorded while he was in college. There are some charming moments here and there, but you can file this under inessential juvenilia.
Listen: "O Please Bring Her Back"
12. Animal Collective, Danse Manatee (2001)
Originally credited to Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist, but later reissued under the Animal Collective name, Danse Manatee is mostly a collection of abstract jams and experiments with extremely high and low frequency sounds. It's often more interesting than enjoyable, but the record does contain a few strong compositions such as the eerie "In the Singing Box" and the shambling yet sublime ballad "Essplode."
11. Animal Collective, Campfire Songs (2003)
Campfire Songs is basically a field recording of the group performing something akin to a campfire sing-along in a screened-in porch on a very cold day. It's a very evocative set of songs — you can practically feel the chilly air come through the speakers — but as pretty as it gets, the songs are rather slight.
10. Panda Bear, Young Prayer (2004)
Panda recorded this raw, elegiac set of acoustic tracks shortly after the death of his father. Young Prayer is by turns haunting, distraught, calm and joyful. There are some beautiful moments here, but the album's improvised, free-drifting quality can get grating after a while.
Listen: "Track 1"
9. Animal Collective, Here Comes the Indian (2003)
Here Comes the Indian, the group's first official album as Animal Collective, builds on the quasi-tribal rhythms and electronic noise bursts of Danse Manatee, but is more structured and less extreme in its dynamic shifts. The album's peaks — the clattering "Native Belle" and the blaring "Slippi" — are hyperactive and thrilling.
8. Avey Tare, Down There (2010)
Avey Tare's first proper solo album is murky, bleak, and occasionally sort of funky. Like Panda's Young Prayer, Down There was made during a particularly dark period in the artist's life. The album is a bit uneven overall, but tracks such as "Cemeteries," "Ghost of Books," and "Heather in the Hospital" rank among his most emotionally affecting pieces.
Listen: "Ghost of Books"
7. Panda Bear, Tomboy (2011)
Panda Bear's latest is full of icy, delicate tracks with lovely melodies that seem to drift in slow motion, as if each note sung was like a snowflake falling to the ground. Tomboy's languid pace can get a bit tiresome at some points, but highlights like "Last Night at the Jetty," "You Can Count On Me," and "Surfer's Hymn" are hypnotic, tranquil, and soulful.
Listen: "Last Night at the Jetty"
6. Animal Collective, Feels (2005)
With its emphasis on electric guitars and primal beats, Feels is the closest Animal Collective has come to releasing a rock album. It's also the group's best attempt to merge its feral freak-outs with elements of pop songwriting. Stand-out tracks "Grass" and "The Purple Bottle" deliver genuine hooks in the form of wordless screams and high-pitched, rhythmic yelps.
5. Animal Collective, Sung Tongs (2004)
Sung Tongs is one of the all-time best fusions of folk music and electronica. The album comes across like an impromptu jamboree featuring acoustic guitars, primitive rhythms, childlike vocals, and strange electronic tones. The group achieves a bizarre, eccentric beauty on the opening track "Leaf House," and the single "Who Could Win A Rabbit" is an inspiring, extremely catchy tune that never doubles back on any of its immensely pleasing hooks.
Listen: "Who Could Win A Rabbit"
4. Animal Collective, Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished (2000)
Avey Tare and Panda Bear's first collaboration proves that writing tuneful, emotionally engaging songs wasn't just something that they picked up after years of arty experimentation. Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished is a bold, extremely ambitious debut full of epic art rock. The album's centerpieces are still among their finest songs: "Chocolate Girl" has a fluttering, whimsical beauty, while the eight-minute piano ballad "Penny Dreadfuls" alternates between moments of quiet grandeur and unhinged emoting.
Listen: "Penny Dreadfuls"
3. Panda Bear – Person Pitch (2007)
Person Pitch is Panda Bear's breakthrough as a songwriter, and possibly the most influential work in the Animal Collective canon. Panda's blend of hazy psychedelia, electronic drones, and angelic, heavily reverbed Beach Boys-ish vocal melodies has been emulated by many indie acts in recent years, but no one comes even close to the warmth and magic of this record. Pretty much all of this album is golden, but the sprawling "Bros" and "Good Girl/Carrots" suites are especially brilliant.
2. Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam (2007)
Just as Person Pitch revealed the full scope of Panda Bear's talent, Strawberry Jam is where Avey Tare reaches full maturity as an artist. Compared to the band's earlier material, songs like "Peacebone" and "Fireworks" are almost startlingly focused and direct, merging sharp folk-pop songwriting with inventive electronic textures and confident vocal performances. Of course, like every Animal Collective release, it's a group effort. On-again, off-again member Deakin provides excellent distorted guitar parts on "For Reverend Green" and "Unsolved Mysteries," while Panda's vocal contributions on "Derek" and "Chores" are wonderfully melodic.
1. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)
Merriweather Post Pavilion, the band's masterpiece, distills all of the best musical ideas from their first decade together into eleven astonishing, emotionally stirring songs. Merriweather is a big warm hug of an album, a set of songs that deal with ideas about personal responsibility and both familiar and romantic love in generous, mature ways without ever getting too hokey or hippy-dippy. "My Girls," "Summertime Clothes," "Guys Eyes," and "Also Frightened" feature some of the most indelible melodies of the band's career, while the final track "Brothersport" is a joyful, life-affirming catharsis.