Animal Collective was founded by four high-school friends from Baltimore, Maryland. Josh Dibb, Brian Weitz, David Portner and Noah Lennox shared a common interest in lo-fi rock and horror film soundtracks as well as early folk music, particularly The Incredible String Band’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (1968).
All four members separated when going to college but stayed in touch and exchanged tapes of home recordings between each other. In 2000, they all gathered in Portner’s apartment in New York during what proved to be a very creatively stimulating session:
‘Everything since then has been a variation of what we explored that summer,’ [Lennox] says. ‘We really cracked the egg open. It seemed like we could anywhere we wanted after that.’ (Leech, 2010, p.254)
Their early albums, featuring various combinations of members, range from these experimental noisy collages to formal folk songs.
A highlight of their career is Campfire Songs (2003), the first album features all four members, although only three are playing acoustic guitars, Weitz being in charge of recording. These 5 songs were recorded in one meticulously worked take on their porch in November, as an attempt to capture the sounds of Maryland. The album marks the band’s first experiments with folk music, the members having always admitted being fans of the genre, though they never really incorporated it into their compositions.
Followed Here Comes the Indian (2003) where the four members went back to experimenting with electronics, resulting in chaotic, loop-based tracks. Sung Tongs (2004) featured a song-based approach with a greater pop aesthetic, similar in a way to Banhart’s work. This brought them comparisons with the freshly-discovered freak-folk scene, although they never really accepted the term.
Although the folk influence isn’t always present in their work, Animal Collective’s sound can still be compared to other contemporary experimental bands like The Tower Recordings or Fursaxa. ‘We listen to folk,’ Josh Dibb said in 2007, ‘but there’s no way we’re folk artists in any sense, and this whole notion that we improvise stuff is bullshit.’ (Leech, 2010, p.275)
Animal Collective have released several albums in a similar experimental vein, many of them to critical and commercial success, though their ties with ‘New Weird America’ seem to have been cut.