Pink Floyd was, at many points in their long careers, one of the most capable, musically intelligent and diverse rock bands of all time. Their legendary status has been recognized the world over. Their unique prestige has gone nearly unchallenged in rock history. However, by the law of history always repeating itself, I believe there must be some modern musical equivalent to the prog-rock legends.
Making their debuts 33 years apart, Animal Collective and Pink Floyd bloomed out of humble avant-garde beginnings. Their first albums, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), and Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Finished (2000) are unrecognizable to fans of each group’s mainstream music.
Pink Floyd’s debut features lengthy, loose-feeling psychedelic instrumentals with odd sound effects even for the time: just a few months before The Beatle’s landmark Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The songwriting is edgy, with nonsensical lyrics which bite as hard as the distinct early prog-rock guitar riffs (see Interstellar Overdrive). Songs as innocent as Scarecrow and Bike showcase Pink Floyd’s versatility and musical capability, as well as the complicated mindset of early songwriter Syd Barrett.
Animal Collective’s Spirit They’re Gone… is an impressive collection of experimental pop, originally released by “Avey Tare and Panda Bear”, the band’s two future bandleaders. Featuring lengthy musical phrases, drones, and vocals that are either inaccessible or obscured, the album creates a distinct electronic sound that remains organic. The first track, “Spirit They’re Vanished”, begins with impossibly high-pitched buzzing, echoey textures, and strained vocals. Upbeat standout track Bat You’ll Fly layers multiple vocal lines, each one equally catchy, with rushed, almost R&B style drums. The effect creates a cluttered, disorientating production style which Animal Collective would somewhat become known for.
To add, both Floyd and AnCo went through personnel changes soon after their debuts: Pink Floyd with bandleader Syd Barrett’s departure due to deteriorating mental health, and Animal Collective with the addition of two other members.
Between each band’s debuts and what I’ll call their landmark albums (1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, and 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion), many musical styles were explored, experienced, and exhausted.
Animal Collective’s use of sampling as a primary instrument in music creation allows them to explore genres nearly effortlessly. 2004’s Sung Tongs sounds like a folk album in a blender. Tracks “Who Could Win a Rabbit” and “We Tigers” are a rushed excitements of organic sounds, whoops, and Appalachian chants. The song “Visiting Friends” uses drawn out acoustic guitar chords, whispers, and soft transitions to grow a vast musical arrangement which flows well past the 12-minute mark.
Pink Floyd’s 1971 album Meddle showcases their growing ability to create just about every genre of music at the same time. “One of These Days” starts the album with shakey bass, angry overdriven guitar, and a demonic sounding vocalist. The mood of the album quickly nosedives from hard rock on an epic scale to some of the softest songwriting in Pink Floyd’s discography. “A Pillow of Winds” and “San Tropez” are comforting embraces led by gentle acoustic and blues slide guitar, and straightforward song structures. It would be a mistake, though, to not mention the 23-minute opus “Echoes” that completes the album. The song is a peek into what Pink Floyd is truly capable of: long, philosophically arcing lyrical concepts, richly explored musical ideas, and instrumental exploration and experimentation; Lead guitarist David Gilmour is making those seagull noises with his electric guitar and a wah-pedal plugged in backwards, an innovation discovered by mistake.
By the time Pink Floyd and Animal Collective were respectively working on what would become their most successful albums commercially and critically, each band had already cemented their place in the pop, rock, and experimental music of their decades. Coincidentally, both of these albums were their band’s eighth releases, and were first developed in front of live audiences before any songs were even finished.
Dark Side of the Moon barely needs an introduction. The legendary album is a part of pop culture. It hit the Billboard charts on release and stayed there for 15 years. The album wouldn’t even fall off the charts for 5 years after founding member Roger Waters left Pink Floyd in 1983. It sold an estimated 45 million copies and is almost unanimously regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time.
Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion made waves in its own way. It is widely regarded as a sonically and compositionally rich album, with its gently evolving textures, candy pop melodies and harmonies, and addictive rhythms (Brothersport). Its tremendous synth pop production was almost exclusively performed on samplers in a secluded studio in Mississippi. A landmark LP for indie and electronic fans alike, the album was the impressive result of hard studio work and sound experimentation.
After Dark Side, Pink Floyd’s progress is clearly spelled out. The band dismembered in the 80’s, even though David Gilmour has been leading the Pink Floyd name and releasing the infrequent album. The case is not the same with Animal Collective. The Baltimore band is not near finished with making music, in fact, they released The Painters EP just last Friday, featuring the addictive & chanting “Kinda Bonkers”.