In the realm of semipopular rock, there are indie rockers — who prize imperfection and irreverence — and there are jam bands, who are steeped in tradition and demand high technical standards. And never the twain shall meet. Until now, at least: Brooklyn's Animal Collective make their songs cackle with soulful eccentricity while dazzling you with deceptive chops and improvised manipulations — think Neutral Milk Hotel as played by Phish. The group's deft sensibility-juggling turns its latest release, Sung Tongs, into one of the more creative and accomplished records you'll hear this year. Out from layers of random gurgles, frantic whispers, acoustic stabs and tribalistic drumming emerge impressive melodies and harmonies. There are tons of other reference points: the Beach Boys performed by Syd Barrett, the weird prog-folk of the Holy Modal Rounders, the gentler side of kraut rock, the loopy psychedelia of Devendra Banhart, to name a few. But mostly, Sung Tongs is its own creature, and it's got plenty of virtuosity and flair.
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