Animal Collective: "Banshee Beat"


By Peter Hepburn | 9 January 2008

Animal Collective has never been a band that has impressed with subtlety. Those four guys in animal costumes paint in broad strokes of neon green and happiness, howling and thumping along to whatever sort of a rhythm they can pull out of thin air. Their childlike enthusiasm is going make or break the band for most people; if you buy into it, Sung Tongs was a great album. If not, it’s hard to explain the shrieking hippie with the head lamp at the front of the stage.

Still, every once and awhile they seem capable of touching a sort of universal nerve. I have heard of few people actually disliking “Winter’s Love” from Sung Tongs, and if I had to bet good money I’d say that there probably won’t be too many haters for “Banshee Beat,” either. There are actually a few songs that come close on Animal Collective’s forthcoming Feels, but only the eight minute “Banshee Beat” has that undeniable pop sensibility that puts it over the top. There are a number of explanations:

First, this song actually is remarkably subtle and relatively complex. Building off the beautiful, distorted guitar line and light piano, it takes the group a good two minutes to introduce the drum line, letting it develop out of the reverberation of the guitar line. Still, it’s the chord change at 2:25 that makes the song; where it goes from being another droning hippie cry to a full-fledged pop anthem. The percussive leap at 2:52 leads the song to the slow build to the first joyful cry of “I duck out / go down to find the swimming / pool!” (You really have to hear it to have that rhyme scheme make sense). As the song winds down, the band steers away from their standard screeches and instead works out the sort of agreeable vocal harmony that leads me to a conclusion I never thought imaginable: the Futureheads should really cover Animal Collective.

Second, this is a summer love song, replete with fences, woods, fish fries, and that all important swimming pool. They lyrics range from childlike to rather thought-provoking (“confusion’s not a kidney stone / in my brain / never risk communicating / though we feel the same”), but the imagery is undeniable. Animal Collective is almost certainly a summer band, and they seem to have the amazing ability to, occasionally, just completely capture all that joy and freedom on tape. As I’m currently living in the Southern Hemisphere, yesterday marked the first day of spring, and you can almost feel the tone of life shifting out of the cold and rain of winter. I walked around today, in the shadow of the Andes, watching people out in t-shirts for the first time in months, an impressively large number of them working on ice cream cones. Time to find the swimming pool.