There are many reasons why it seems so weird that Animal Collective, a group of New York noise-rock semi-weirdoes, can move nearly 150,000 albums, become your sister’s favorite band and break through to an audience that probably thought the band “sucked” 15 months ago. One of those reasons is Campfire Songs, the third album by the Collective, which is being reissued due to the set going out of print recently. It’s the album that validates every criticism lobbed at Merriweather Post Pavilion: It’s aimless, tuneless, and weird for weird’s sake, and it’s nearly impossible to get through.
Recorded on a porch in one marathon take, Campfire Songs is the most natural Animal Collective release. However, the “natural” part has less to do with it being recorded outside and more to do with the fact that Geologist, whose sound sculpting is more or less Animal Collective’s sonic fingerprint, doesn’t play on this one. Instead, Deakin, Avey Tare and Panda Bear wield acoustic guitars as they moan vaguely comprehensible lyrics underneath a building tsunami of grating tape hiss on tracks with titles like “Doggy” and “Moo Rah Rah Rain.” If you want to trace the evolution of chillwave, Campfire Songs is obviously the Rosetta Stone and the Ark of the Covenant combined.
It’s tempting to try to claim that there’s some trace of what was to come in the near future, but with Campfire Songs that’d require some self-delusion. This isn’t some lost early album that is as good as the new stuff; Campfire Songs might be the weakest entry in Animal Collective’s catalog. The album is the aural document of a young band blowing 45 minutes on a porch and hoping in vain for some kind of transcendent musical revelation.