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NEW VISUAL ALBUM: The Sound and Fury of Animal Collective

"ODDSAC" (Swiss Dots) -- 4 STARS

By Sarah L. Hopkinson, Contributing Writer

“ODDSAC,” the new visual album by psychedelic pop band Animal Collective, is enough to make you feel as if your head has been transported from your body, as if you’re standing on the other side of the world, staring back at yourself in the distance. “ODDSAC” is 53 minutes of brilliant, yet quirky mayhem.

Since the release of their debut album “Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished” in 2000, Animal Collective have invariably sought to challenge prevailing musical perceptions. With their eccentric fusion of psychedelia, pop, and indie rock, the band has achieved musical mastery on records such as the highly acclaimed “Strawberry Jam” and “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” Now, with the creation of “ODDSAC”, the band is attempting to diffuse their musical psychedelic experimentation into a visual aesthetic. But is this just another hoax from the quartet who like to refer to themselves by names like “Panda Bear” and “the Geologist,” and who wear animal masks to press conferences, or is there some greater artistic value at work here? The answer is perhaps both. It is a fundamentally subjective experience; with no coherent dialogue or plot, the film relies upon the individual’s ability to translate the visuals and sound into an aesthetically pleasing and worthwhile production. The viewer is as integral as the work itself to the success of Animal Collective’s visual album.

The “visual album” is a relatively untapped medium, with low-profile releases by the Chemical Brothers and British band One eskimO providing two of the very few other examples. The album is a series of graphics and music which only together form one coherent body. The idea is not to have a recorded album put to images, nor a movie put to music—it is for the two mediums to feed together, or as Collective member Deakin put it, the two agents must “have a circular influence on each other.”

Though not scheduled to be released until June, the film was screened last Tuesday at the Brattle Street Theatre. Following a brief introduction by director Danny Perez, Deakin, and the Geologist, the audience was plunged into a sea of psyche-disrupting images and sounds.

“ODDSAC” opens upon a distraught girl alone in a wallpapered room. As heightening drum beats pound away, the girl begins to frantically tear wallpaper off the walls unleashing a profusion of slick mud, in a scene that invokes Perkins Gillman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The mud torrent is seemingly unstoppable, despite the girl’s frantic struggles, and as the mud continues pouring, the profusion of bizarre sounds increase in volume and fury. The successful unity of the visuals and sound trigger intense emotional responses, arousing feelings even of distress as the scene totally envelops the viewer. But when one is on the verge of becoming totally overwhelmed by the uncontrollable derangement, in floats the soft vocals of Panda Bear, lending reassurance and calm.

These scenes of successful sonic-imagistic synthesis mirror the bizarre brilliance of songs such as “Summertime Clothes:” they are interesting, frightening and revelatory. However the film can, at times, become lost in its overly obscurantist mode. At one point, a single shot of a random red and black plane upon a white background lingers for at least five minutes. Multiple times, loud and abrasive sounds punctuate tranquil, motif-less scenes, with the sole aim to shock. It is in scenes such as these that the film becomes overly self-indulgent, relinquishing the aesthetic brilliance which is achieved through the subtlety of many other scenes.

“ODDSAC” seems to reject any objective analysis. Its reception is dependent upon whether one can accept the aesthetic eccentricity and allow oneself to be captivated by it. The film will attract endless speculation about its meaning, and its signification. But this misses the point. As Perez stated, “Don’t try to find a meaning.” The aim of the film is to achieve aesthetic unity, which it does.

The work displays a transcendence of the image-sound boundary, a transcendence which generates psychological disruption and shock in the viewer. But further than this analysis, we should not attempt to ponder. Any meaning the film has is what it arouses in the individual; there is no universal symbolism to the images or music. Attempting to unravel such a non-existent meaning would be futile, and would only serve to destroy the personal connection for which the film strives.

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