For additional background on Animal Collective, refer to Feels (2005).
Recorded in a dusty Maryland bedroom on an 8-track tape, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished is the first record in Animal Collective’s prolific discography. Consisting solely of contributions by Avey Tare and Panda Bear, Spirit They’re Gone is a collection of psychedelic, electroacoustic ballads that join harsh noise and wistful lullabies in a way that sounds like no other. According to the original vinyl liner notes, the intention of Spirit They’re Gone was to make “the music of childhood” and compose songs “filled with the light of the forest,” a sentiment that perfectly captures the quintessence of the record.
“Spirit They’ve Vanished” opens with an earsplitting, high-pitched wall of feedback and drifting synthesizers that accompany Avey’s saccharine vocals. The use of feedback here is harmonious, divorced from the experiments of harsh noise artists who reject any notion of tonality or rhythm. Similarly, the instrumental “Untitled” is a visceral cacophony of screeching feedback and frantic piano arpeggios, evoking simultaneous experiences of beauty, bliss, and terror. In the aftermath of humming electronics and erratic piano notes, the delicate piano elegy “Penny Dreadfuls” apprehensively picks up where things left off. “Chocolate Girl,” an eight minute track featuring Panda Bear’s muted, syncopated percussion and increasingly hallucinogenic synthesizers and guitar, kicks off a sequence of excellent psych pop ballads.
The twelve minute “Alvin Row” is the album’s epic finale, a symphonic composition beginning with a minute of free noise improvisation that transitions into a bittersweet piano sonata. The track then goes through several movements – instruments joining and leaving with the ebb and flow of the changing dynamics while Avey’s voice contorts from nostalgic sighs to ecstatic screams – until finally culminating into a breathtaking singalong backed by clashing cymbals and ringing piano notes. Thematically, “Alvin Row” chronicles a young Avey who is reminiscent of the carefree days of his youth and lamenting of how quickly they have gone by, building up to the cathartic moment when he bids farewell to the enigmatic Alvin. Alvin likely symbolizes the lost naïveté of Avey’s childhood, which makes sense in the greater context of Spirit They’re Gone being written after his move from hometown Baltimore county to attend college in New York City.
Even compared to Animal Collective’s later output, Spirit They’re Gone is a singularly unique addition to the modern pop canon. The dichotomies between mystical and familiar, between physically painful and emotionally touching, between harmony and dissonance – all of these elements coalesce into a poignant tale of the coming of age and loss of innocence.
Animal Collective – Chocolate Girl
Animal Collective – Untitled (Warning: loud & harsh noise)