I've always had mixed feelings about Animal Collective. Some of their songs are downright brilliant, mixing complex and bizarre deconstructed structures with the most catchy and basic of pop melodies. Other times I think they sound like the most pretentious band on the planet, taking noise rock to it's unlistenable worst.
Animal Collective's headlining set Saturday night at Pitchfork Music Festival didn't do much to get me off the fence about them.
The rendition of ''Peacebone,'' for example, one of the cherry-picked songs I enjoyed from their last album, Strawberry Jam, was phenomenal. Panda Bear was jumping around the stage bellowing primal spastic shouts and the crowd was rocking out with him. The songs is a perfect example of how the band is able to take its squealing synthesizers and build to a booming crescendo. It's the type of song that makes them quite possibly the only noise rock/pop band on the planet.
But other times, in fact the majority of the time, I found myself wishing Animal Colletive would cave to its pop sensibilities more often. I'm not into noise or drone or grind or whatever you want to call it, and too often for my taste, Animal Collective takes that genre and highlights everything I don't like about it. There's no harmony, no melody, and it's no fun. It's the bastard stepchild of emo, electronica and indie rock.
Don't get me wrong, there was quite a lot to like about their performance. For what its worth, the band's light show was mind-blowing. They were backed by a row of neon strobes, flashing electric purple, green, blue and red. At one point the lights morphed into a hypnotic row of florescent dots that jumped and pulsated like fireflies. It was something straight out of a Dan Flavin art exhibit. They were also definitely the loudest band of the festival.
The bottom line, I think, is that you either love, or love to hate, Animal Collective. Pitchfork and its minions are in the former.
One of the people behind me at the show who said, ''I just don't see how they call this a performance. It's all a backing track and loops with some guitar and screaming,'' was in the latter. I, however, can't quite decide which camp I'm in.