Earth, wind, and fire have their patrons, but among musicians, water is the go-to element. Mendelssohn wrote "Fingal's Cave" after an 1829 jaunt to the Scottish coast, and the Beatles all lived in a yellow submarine just south of there. But the motion of the ocean finds its fullest expression in the music of Animal Collective, indie rock’s most exciting band by a nautical mile. The New York Times once described their songs as "blowing up into big, woolly clouds," but that’s only half of it—Animal Collective's newest kaleidoscopic pop record, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is wet with scuba dives, Lisbon shores, and even bioacoustic recordings of the deep sea itself.
Childhood friends from Maryland, Brian Weitz, Dave Portner, Noah Lennox, and Josh Dibb draw on everything from British folk to avant-garde electronica to the Beach Boys: bright melodies, dense harmonies. But the band doesn't just surf along on good vibrations.
"We try to think about what kind of landscapes or weather patterns the melodies bring to mind," explains Weitz, the group’s electronics specialist. "The song has a melody and rhythm and lyrics, and then we create a home for the song to live in—a world in which it exists." On their fourth album, Campfire Songs, they wrapped folk in ambient back-porch noise; for the song "Water Curses," they blended digital samples and field recordings of bubbling water.
The band's previous full-length record, Strawberry Jam, was recorded in the Arizona desert, so maybe it's no surprise they've retreated to the sea. Weitz and Dibb are avid scuba divers and have explored in California, New Zealand, and Mexico's Revillagigedo Islands. Weitz also studied environmental science, and five years ago he moved to Washington, D.C., to work in ocean policy, where he was introduced to bioacoustics. On Merriweather, “I used a lot of field recordings that were made in remote places, some underwater,” Weitz says. Lennox, who also performs solo as Panda Bear, relocated from New York to Lisbon, and it’s difficult not to hear the Atlantic lapping against the shore in his meditative work.
Merriweather, the Collective's ninth album, was recorded in Oxford, Mississippi, last summer. Fittingly, some songs have a distinctly swampy feel. "My bed is a pool and the walls are on fire," sings Portner in "Summertime Clothes." A dip might do him good.