Animal Collective are here to freak you out. Again.
The long-running psych-pop crew have teamed with Miami videographers Coral Morphologic for an album and film called Tangerine Reef – a weird, hypnotic, sensual, occasionally Cronenberg-ian look under the waves that gets up close and personal with spawning sealife. A strong departure from the giddy hooks of 2016’s Painting With, the new project submerges Animal Collective in patient, murky, reverbed, modular-synth-heavy soundworlds, complimenting the footage of glowing, undulating creatures.
Tangerine Reef began at last year’s Borscht Film Festival in Miami, where Animal Collective performed over video projections made by Coral Morphologic’s Colin Foord and J.D. McKay. The final album, which Animal Collective has dedicated to the International Year of the Reef effort, features three members of the four-man group: Dave “Avey Tare” Portner, Brian “Geologist” Weitz and Josh “Deakin” Dibb. It’s out next week on CD, double-LP and streaming services, with the accompanying film screening for free on the band’s homepage.
Rolling Stone caught up with Geologist – an avid scuba diver who holds a master’s degree in environmental science and policy – to talk about his recent dip into waters both artistic and otherwise. “It’s pretty clear that coral reefs are in trouble,” he says. “We’re hoping that Animal Collective fans and beyond will see this footage and be inspired to care about the ocean and care about coral reefs and do what they can.”
How did Animal Collective interact with this weird coral footage?
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A few months before the performance, we made a big Dropbox folder, and [Coral Morphologic] uploaded 30-second clips of all their animals that you could loop. We made a ton of stuff. I could have done a solo set, I was so inspired by it. We got together at Dave’s house … a month before the concert, and we mixed and matched certain loose ideas to certain animals.
We recorded [the performance] with the hope that it could be some sort of a live release. But – and we’re partially to blame for this – we had said to the film festival, “Oh, you should make it more like an art thing, where people can come in and out of the room, and put beanbags on the floor.” We thought people would be very quiet and meditative if we set it up like that, and it had the opposite effect. So the live recording was unusable. Crowd noise, everywhere.
We got together at this studio that Josh is part of in Baltimore, and the three of us said, “Let’s see if we can play it live again, and record it with no overdubs.” Essentially try and capture what we did at the film festival, just without anybody in the room. And then we sent that back to the coral guys. We thought they could just take the film that we played to in Miami and put it on top of what we recorded, but they felt they needed to re-shoot a bunch of stuff.
There’s a weird sexual element to a lot of the footage. Is that supposed to be part of the piece?
Sex is a huge part of it. Colin and Jared, they’re very cosmic thinker dudes, and they are very much into the idea that coral spawning is synced to full moons, and how that may be the earliest example of advanced time-keeping – like, the first animal that’s on a lunar cycle – and sex as a manifestation of a universal synchronicity. I shouldn’t speak too much for their ideas, but that’s why. The original event that we played it at was called Coral Orgy.
So there’s a lot of coral spawning?
There’s other creatures. There’s a scallop in there, an urchin and an anemone, but they are all creatures that are part of a reproductive cycle on the reef. Everything, I think, is filmed in their laboratory, but they are able, on full moons, to get their corals to do that in their tanks. During our song called “Airpipe” … I mean, it’s not hard to guess what you’re looking at. You’re essentially seeing ejaculate from the corals, like the spawn just being sprayed out.
That’s definitely one of the spots – the weird little tendrils going in their weird little holes…
Yeah, the hole part, that is actually not sexual. That’s a sea cucumber feeding. I guess I’m not sure what relationship that has to spawning and reproduction, but it looks fucking cool. [Laughs.]
How does scuba diving influence you musically?
I’m not usually the one that does solo stuff. When Animal Collective takes a break, I usually had a kid [laughs]. When they sent this footage in the Dropbox, I don’t know how to put it into words, but it was just a level of inspiration to do my own music that I hadn’t felt before. That wasn’t scuba diving, per se, but this footage…. I should be applying for jobs at Discovery Channel. This is all I want to do all day long, is just stare at this footage and make music for it.
How often do you make it out to dive?
Only once a year at this point. Maybe two if I’m lucky. I don’t live in a place where scuba diving is done – D.C., Baltimore, there just isn’t diving around here. It requires travel, and for the kind of divers that Josh and I are at this point, which means we can deal with pretty intense diving and currents…If we’re going to travel halfway around the world to scuba dive, we want to do it all day for a week. To do that, you have to live on the boats. You’re unavailable to your family for eight days or something while you’re in the middle of the ocean. It’s definitely a wealthy person’s hobby, and we’re not quite there, so it takes a lot of planning.
What do you do when you’re not scuba diving on one of these boats?
You just read, basically, and hydrate. When we’ve tried to convince friends of ours that scuba dive to do it with us, that’s their first question. It sounds boring, but I like it quite a bit. You dive, and then you have to process the nitrogen that you’ve absorbed in your tissues and your bloodstream, because the air is being forced into your system under pressure when you’re diving. You’re supposed to stay as mellow as possible and not accelerate your heart rate. You’re kind of exhausted, too, and you’re cold, so you eat a lot. You listen to music or read a book, and that’s all you do.
Photographers, who are a big portion of the liveaboard dive boat community, they bring their laptops. You inevitably have some pretty terrible slideshow that someone wants to show you at the end of the week that probably has instrumental Coldplay synced to it. Like whatever that Coldplay song is with the pianos, that’s the go-to one. Or that song “[Orinoco Flow] Sail Away.” Is that Enya?
The Animal Collective lineup is very fluid, and any grouping of you guys can be an Animal Collective record. But this is the first full-length you’ve made without Panda Bear.
We didn’t really know it was going to turn into a record. Initially when the offer came to us it was just the film festival, and Noah doesn’t often take part in the one-off or weirder Animal Collective things. Like for the Transverse Temporal Gyrus installation we did at the Guggenheim [in 2010], he sent a demo of a song that ended up on Tomboy, but he didn’t come over. He’s in Portugal. It’d be different if he was in New York. He’s had kids for five years longer than the rest of us, and again, just living in Portugal. He has to pick and choose.
It’s a good model for a band. It seems like it’s helped keep you guys together after all these years.
Yeah, I think it’s good. Noah is such a strong force in the band – his aesthetic and his voice and everything. For a while we probably would have been like, “Well, yeah, the lineup’s fluid, but I can’t see doing anything without Noah, he’s too much of a secret weapon.” But I don’t think he wants to feel like he always has to be part of every Animal Collective project, especially if he’s working on solo stuff or wants to spend time with his family.
Are you guys planning on touring this material?
We hope so. We don’t want to do it in traditional clubs. We’ve talked to aquariums and art museums. But then it’s a question of, like, do we have to rent a PA? When you’re trying to do things in alternative spaces, we’re finding there’s a lot more production things you have to think about than how we just show up with our instruments and a hard drive.