Album Cover
Animal Collective
Sung Tongs
Fat Cat
June 01, 2004


It always bothers me when I experience strong deja vu with a particular piece of music, and it's starting to happen more and more. Listen to a large selection of a similar style of music for long enough and patterns emerge, things sound like things that sound like other things; you hear it, and, "duh. I could have written that." I've been spending a disproportionate amount of time simply struggling to believe that some new things I hear haven't already been written for ages (and in some cases they have been). And maybe this is a strength of these musicians, to sound timeless and classic, or maybe they're just not trying very hard.

But you know this already. I repeat it here, though, to contrast with the following statement: I have most definitely never heard this album before. I've been gathering Animal Collective produce lately, have been wrapping my head around Here Comes the Indian and Spirit They're Gone and wrapping Danse Manatee around my head enough to recognize an Animal Collective when I hear one. But Sung Tongs came out of nowhere. Or, where it came from is a strange and far enough away place that I've certainly never been there, and it's probably safe to assume you haven't either.

Wherever it came from, there is lots of green there. Sung Tongs is filthy with the outdoors; its melodies, instrumentations and ideas summon images of nomadic tribes in the forest, sequestered from society and being harmonious with things. Of course, so has all of the Animal Collective's back catalog summoned these images, but Sung Tongs is clearly the product of a different location. Remnants of past recordings are all there, vaguely - the ardent experimentation of Danse Manatee, and the vibe from Campfire Songs of being gathered in a circle and enjoying onesself, but Sung Tongs is far less impenetrable than the former and far less sparse than the latter.

"Who Could Win A Rabbit" is a ridiculously wonderful song, by far the album's most infectious. Nature pop? A gleeful "Dee-de-de-de-de, de-de-de-de-de-de-de-dee" chorus will insinuate itself into your subconscious mind and stubbornly refuse to move, not that you'd want it to. By comparison, the following "Softest Voice" is a bit of a downer, but its title is more or less self-explanatory: quietly ambient, the sounds of flowing water, trees creaking in the wind. The slightly arrhythmic guitar pluckings are disarmingly beautiful in their simplicity.

"Winter's Love", "Kids on Holiday" and "Sweet Road" are childish tunes, adorably upbeat and moving, without any traces of sappiness. "Visiting Friends" returns to the "Softest Voice" aesthetic, but fails to live up to its precedent, dragging on a bit too long.

"Mouth Wooed Her" is the best example of the successful combination of all of the album's established styles. Guitars are plucked with quietly wild abandon, with no regard for our human meters and rhythms. Manic shifts in tone and volume create touching little irregularities in an otherwise naturally ambient, folksy sheen, and the lyrics fluctuate between airy, fiery and mechanical. "I need mouth water," becomes the mantra that accompanies the end of the song, wherein the chaotic melodies and tonal conflicts resolve themselves and everything becomes generally a-okay.

Sung Tongs is charming and fascinating, alternately infinitely soothing and mind-boggling. By combining the unbridled experimentalism of Here Comes the Indian or Danse Manatee with tangible melodies and hooks, the Animal Collective have created the solidest contender so far for the best album of 2004, and demonstrate the strength of sounding timeless and classic without being even remotely familiar.

Noah Jackson

Track List

  1. Leaf House
  2. Who Could Win a Rabbit
  3. The Softest Voice
  4. Winters Love
  5. Kids on Holiday
  6. Sweet Road
  7. Visiting Friends
  8. College
  9. We Tigers
  10. Mouth Wooed Her
  11. Good Lovin' Outside
  12. Whaddit I Done