– The Songs of Uncle Ted –
| By Anonymous |
If “Uncle” Ted Kaczynski were forced to listen to all the most classic “meme bands” on /mu/, which one would he come away liking best? Would it be Death Grips? Neutral Milk Hotel, perhaps? To this writer, there can be no answer other than Animal Collective. They have always had clear anarcho-primitivist sympathies, even if they have never been explicitly reactionary. I believe that their music, consciously or otherwise, rejects the modern man as having an overheated mind that lacks a connection to instinct and intuitive spirituality. They have always had a pagan aesthetic, probably influenced most of all from the childhood memories they have warmly described in interviews of getting lost playing around in the deep forestry that surrounded their hometown. Childhood, nature and family, their three biggest themes, have made them bedfellows with people who the hipster indie musicians would probably consider evil.
“Is tradition holding regularly in this town?” they ask in Centipede HZ’s closing track “Amanita.” The song concludes that, no, it is “falling down, breaking apart.” The band is not pleased with this. “What will happen to the stories from the bogs? / The trails of the Vikings? / The passing of sea sirenes?” Their solution to this is a call to “build it back up, / build it back up.” This is what I mean by a continuous distaste for modernity and a preference of the Old over the New in their art. Part of their infatuation with childhood comes from how impulsive and unrestricted it is compared to the bugman life of the 21st century depressive adult. They sing anxiously about being a “lion in a coma,” “paler than a summer blouse / packed inside a haunted house.” Or “I want to get my knees out in the dirt with my hands, / cuz I’ve been a cereberal spouse.” Married too much to the mind rather than the wisdom of the body. This is why their memories of running around in the forest are so appealing, and why the answer to how they will “build it back up” in “Amanita” is the chant of “I’m gonna go into the forest / until I can’t remember my name.”
All bands worth anything have legendary stories, exaggerated or otherwise, that their fans love to pass around. The best one for AnCo fans is concerning their recording sessions for Here Comes the Indian. (Of course, being so obsessed with primitivism and forestry, they would title their album that- the only more blatant example is Campfire Songs.) Apparently, during these sessions, they terrified the studio engineers, because they were all so deep into a combination of drugs and sleep deprivation that they communicated- to the engineers and each other -mainly with grunts instead of words. This desire to forget one’s name, to forget words, is AnPrim to the core. On Sung Tongs, one of their most pastoral works, there is a song called “We Tigers” in which they go full native, reducing the music to nothing but hoarse, crazed voices and drums with sticks to beat upon. Some lyrics that stand out are “My poltergeist concurs that words aren’t even necessary right now.” One of Uncle Ted’s comrades, John Zerzan, has been a critic of language as well as symbolic thought in general in much the same way that AnCo is. The “poltergeist” in these lyrics can be taken to represent an inner, instinctive, intuitive raucous, noisy spirit of action over abstraction, physical over mental, life over thought, nature over civilization. Who wants to be a cerebral spouse? Who doesn’t ask, as Avey Tare does, “Should I pull up the floor from my kitchen, / so I can feel the dirt while I’m doing my dishes?”
So there is this desire to lose oneself. While the drug story is hilarious, the boys cannot make up their mind concerning whether drugs are a lindy path to transcendence and ego-death and all that jazz or just another example of modern culture’s tendency towards nihilistic hedonism and addiction. This is illustrated perfectly in Panda having one song, “Cosplay,” where he chants “Marijuana makes my day” over and over, and another, “Laugh For a World Filled With Fantasy,” where the chant sung over and over is “I don’t wanna ever smoke another joint again.” The latter, sung over a victoriously sunny sample which suggests he is succeeding in his flight from drug dependency, has quite a similar effect in this regard to “Take Pills,” where the chant is “I don’t want for us to take pills anymore / Not that it’s bad / Cuz we’re stronger if we don’t need ‘em.” Avey echoes this aversion to “better living” through chemistry when he sings “Don’t want that Tylenol” on “Monkey Riches.” They would prefer to use drugs the way those in the 1960s who thought LSD would actually change humanity used them- for spiritual development rather than listless, unreflective, short-term pleasure. AnCo wants to use drugs as a way to reconnect to their collective animal roots, to learn again what it means to be covered in frogs, but they know that it is a risky approach.
Far safer then to stick to childhood and nature as paths out of modernity’s muck. Animal Collective, for a while anyways, believed first and foremost in the Forest, and they believe in it religiously (Makes sense, then, that they have a song entitled “Forest Gospel.”) Some listeners will probably find these themes charming, while others will find them cloying and too sentimental. The latter will probably want to stay far away from the album in which the two themes are most present, indeed the album which is nothing but these themes- their very first one, Spirit They’re Gone Spirit They’ve Vanished. Let’s take a look at the liner notes, shall we? “Not long ago a young boy named Avey and his friend Panda Bear roamed the patch work which covers the land (some call it forest). They were elooked upon by Pan and raised by fairies and the Angels of light who play deep within the Wood. ‘Let’s make the music of childhood,’ Avey shouted one day as the two played. Panda thought this idea was a good one. ‘I can use my magical Rythm sticks and you can play your Sun harp,’ he said.” Anyone who has lurked on Frog Twitter, Weird Twitter, or whatever you want to call it, might be immediately reminded of the fairy thread made by Owen Cyclops AKA @WesternIdentity, in which he went into deep detail on his theories about how stories of fairies abducting children in the forest are real and that it can all be connected to Missing411 cases, alien abduction, “machine elves” in DMT trips, and demonic possession. If you’re not a fan of such /x/tier fun, you might just roll your eyes, but the “greenpills” of Owen certainly make STGSTV, with fairies on its cover, a more interesting listen, especially on spooky songs about children being preyed on by the supernatural such as “April and the Phantom.” Who knows what Avey, Panda and the others saw in the forestry surrounding their town?
I could go on about these themes of nature and childhood. If I tried to name every song that has them, I would probably go through most of their discography. After all, it’s not just in the lyrics that these themes pop up. Their songs are often filled with sound effects both childish and pastoral. As I’ve said, this will be charming to some, cloying to others. “Hey kids, let’s pick up sticks, let’s make a sound of our own”- to some ears this is an anthem, to others a headache. But I think that a more interesting critique beyond “it annoys me” would be that this is all just escapism. That in staying in their fantasy worlds of the Forest, the AnCo boys are not being too different from the viral video of the soyboy spiritually wetting himself over the new Star Wars trailer. We should all know the response to “Why can’t you just let people enjoy things?” by now: Letting people immerse themselves in children’s entertaimment will create a bunch of stunted simpletons who only see things in the most basic terms. They will not be able to think of politics as more complex than the Manichean good-vs-evil of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Marvel, etc.. Are Animal Collective crypto-soy, then? Where does adulthood enter into the picture? Well, as I mentioned earlier, the third theme of AnCo’s music is “family.”
As far as music videos go, the one for “FloriDada” is among the most unconsciously reactionary ever made, mainly due to its glorification of reproduction. It made me think of wignat wheatfield memes. The male and female featured in it are, with the exception of the female’s hairless head, are highly “gender-conforming,” and also in exemplary physical shape. They look like they stepped right out of a Classical painting and are posterchildren of the societal norm for notions of beauty that the genderfluidity and body-positivity crowd have been aiming to erode. The male scoops the female into his barbarian arms and carries her majestically to a holy bed surrounded by floating candles (BAPbook out how long??). Sex as a sacred ritual, rather than the emptiness and cynicism that has flourished following that ol’ Sexual Revolution. Pregnancy is depicted with delight rather than the sort of “ugh it’s like a parasite so gross” hot takes we often get nowadays, although there is a little cheeky gender-bending in that the male seems to get pregnant too. Then there is an ecstatic psychedelic explosion of childbirth and finally the beautiful infant child. What is this, a pro-life ad? Any viewer who entered the video possessed by a Cioranic humor might very well leave infected by a TradCath enthusiasm to pump out babies like rabbits. In a time where young people are ignoring a very deeply rooted human call and suffering for it, whether because of career-focus capitalism, anti-family femnism, “Child-Free and Lovin’ It” hedonism/consumerism, the influence of the Left’s general disdain for the nuclear family, Enlightement memes about individualism, the general trend toward atomization and isolation, stunted maturity that makes raising kids seem like the ultimate “adulting” nightmare, pessimism over rising divorce rates (which get blamed on the fault of tradition by the same ideologies that caused them) and/or suicidal antinatalism derived from a depressiveness AnPrims would be quick to say is to be expected in this highly technologized state of things, the “FloriDada” video is a strange reminder of what once was.
This moment is not an anomaly in AnCo’s career. Their pagan tendencies have always led them to worship birth and fertility. Take for example the obscure track “Baby Day,” where they go full native again, nothing but voices and drums, and chant ceremoniously “She’s gonna have a baby.” (The word “chant” comes up a lot in discussion of AnCo.) Or Panda Bear’s “Good Girl,” a song about being a nervous father worried as your wife goes into labor, something that was once a normal rite of passage but now may never be experienced by many of their listeners. And being good pagans, they make sure to pay homage not just to birth but death as well. It’s all a cycle after all (a “Fickle” one). The prime example of this is Panda’s “Tropic of Cancer.” The lyrics “Got to like it all, / got to like what kills / just to live, / got to like it all” reflect an attitude of Antiquity that our times know nothing of: an acceptance of death as a part of life rather than something terrible to be shunned and fought against until overcome, no matter how post-human things get in the process. Once again we have a severely reactionary music video in which a whole community gathers together to witness an elaborate religious ritual/ceremony for the death of a village elder whose time has come. Panda Bear has a anachronistic amount of respect for his elders, especially in contrast to the omnipresent “Hey, fuck YOU, Dad” you usually see in alternative music or just art scenes in general. Frequently in interviews he goes on about how his father was such a good influence on him. And in talking about the lessons in character his father imparted to him, Panda tends to come off as a virtue ethicist. Young Prayer, a collection of songs he made to play for his dying father to tell him how much he appreciates the way he was raised, is the culmination of all this. One of its songs is nothing but an a cappella chant of “I will have sons and daughters / and I will say / ‘Here are your grandchildren,’ / and you will see them.”
Panda identifies not just as his father’s son but as his children’s father, and has written many songs about his concern of being as good a father as his own one, such as “Good Girl” mentioned above, or “Also Frightened,” “I’m Not,” “Derek,” “You Can Count On Me,” etcetera. On “Also Frightened,” the Forest that he and Avey were running around in on Spirit They’re Gone Spirit They’ve Vanished returns, only this time he’s not the one doing the running. “Let them crawl into the logs / that dam brown jeans, the hue of their path, / excited and screamin’ their voices grow wild / and rise with the birds mating up in the pines / down to puddles that breathe, / covered by leaves, / with mud they’ll make prints on their backs.” Animal Collective’s most popular song, “My Girls,” is another song about raising a family (“There isn’t much / that I feel I need, / a solid soul, / and the blood I bleed, / but with a little girl, / and by my spouse, / I only want, / a proper house”) and honoring his passed father in doing so (“I will, with heart, / on my father’s grave”). So that’s Panda, the family man, the one who has moved past his childhood and friendships and now lives far away from the rest of the band in Lisbon.
Avey is different. Avey wants a Männerbund. He wants his bros. He wants a tribe, a gang of brothers. It’s, yes, a little gay. He wants to keep his childhood and friendships, and keep running around in the Forest with them until the end of time, like the Lost Boys in Neverland. On the same album, Strawberry Jam, in which Panda is singing about his family, Avey is still singing about childhood nostalgia (“Peacebone,” “Unsolved Mysteries,” “For Reverend Green,” “Cuckoo Cuckoo,” etc etc etc), only now in an increasingly despairing way. The lyrics to Feels’ “Flesh Canoe,” taken by most listeners to be about a romantic relationship, were revealed by Avey in an interview to be actually about his relationship with Panda! “Your nose dipped in my sweat, / it dripped on your beautiful sweater… Then I talk to your breath, / and we enjoy the air, / and I creep on your chest, / to the hut that I have, / where I pluck a few notes on the strands of your hair….” As gays of the Right like BAP and James J. O’Meara are fond of pointing out, our supposedly less stifled culture is actually one in which male bonding, due to its masculinity, has been neutralized. But then again, they are gay! Panda’s masculinity is not about this. The interview where Avey reveals what “Flesh Canoe” is about gets passed around often on /mu/, just because it’s painful and hilarious to read as things grow awkward. Avey wants his bros, but Panda has different thoughts on “Bros” on a track that appropriately appears on a SOLO album… “Hey man, what’s your problem? / Don’t you know that I don’t belong to you? / I’m not trying to forget you, / I just want to be alone / I just want to be my own / Come and give me the space I need…” How does he feel about Avey’s Lost Boys fantasy, Avey’s desire to never move on past the Forest? “I mean no offense to you but grow up, / can’t you just grow up? / When are you going to give it your own go?” On Avey’s solo album, on the other hand, he brings the band back into the picture. He sings about wanting to “hide under the shelter of his three umbrellas, / we’re all just like brothers…” Panda sings more about his distancing himself from his friends on “Rosie Oh.” The family man, traditionally, is stoic; he does not see his wife as a “best friend” and gab with her as if she’s his therapist. Perhaps most of the previously discussed themes of family and childbirth in AnCo’s career come from Panda. What is fascinating about the difference between Avey Tare and Panda Bear is that it mirrors perfectly a split in Traditionalist culture as well as philosophy regarding masculinity- those who want to be family men and those who want to endlessly explore without any shackles of the home to tie them down.
The boys don’t like to get political. Avey and Geo disparaged George W. Bush once in an interview, but other than that, they stay away. With the exception of environmentalism. Geologist especially has been a crusader for this, and after all, it’s on brand with them- can’t let that nature get destroyed. Of course, as we all know, it’s ridiculous to see environmentalism as Leftist. Uncle Ted, of course, would rant that leftists should not be allowed into anti-tech, green movements because their neuroticism fucks everything up. Panda’s politics remain a mystery. The band members have suggested that he is not as left-leaning as them. Don’t hold your breath on Animal Collective coming out as reactionaries. What’s much more likely is that the band will stay pagan progressives. Or to put it in words the gatekeepers of hipsterdom at Pitchfork Media once used to describe AnCo’s aesthetic vision, “a primitive future.” Time will tell.