If it’s hard to recall how revolutionary the advent of Animal Collective was, it’s only because their revolution was won.
The Baltimore-based experimental pop quartet consisting of childhood friends Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin, and Geologist helped make indie rock safe for samplers, sequencers, and light shows in the early 2000s. They smuggled radical electronic music into the essentially conservative sphere under the cover of familiar rock instruments, irresistibly saturated colors, oceans of reverb, cloudbanks of vocal harmony, and a certain balmy nostalgia that would breeze into every corner of music. Their major insight—to meld rather than divide the natural and the synthetic—has birthed more than two dozen releases (including canonical modern masterpieces such as Merriweather Post Pavilion), countless imitators, and at least one genre, chillwave, which reproduced Panda Bear’s Person Pitch like so many wavy-lined VHS tapes.
With shrewd naïveté, Animal Collective taught underground pop the polyglot tongue that would define the internet age. Over time, their immersive elegies for childhood’s irretrievable glow also matured; in 2018, they found a grave and poignant theme in the demise of coral on the audiovisual album Tangerine Reef. With a conceptual sweep as capacious as their sound, which unites spare campfire séances and resplendent psychedelia through modular synthesis and fearless improvisation, they come to Big Ears after 2020’s Bridge to Quiet, an EP of collaged live music, primed, as Jon Pareles once said in The New York Times, to turn clatter into joy.