‘ODDSAC’ a magical mystery box of experimental psychadelia

By Garth Brody

(Courtesy myspace.com)

About 15 minutes into Animal Collective’s visual album “ODDSAC,” an oozing color-storm recedes abruptly, and its squeaky, clattering noise collage is cleared away for a haunting folk ballad. Floating over a moonlit river scene, Panda Bear’s lightly-effected vocals ask a pertinent question – “why am I seeing screens?”

Perhaps at this juncture you are asking the very same question. O ye of little faith. Granted, thus far it has been difficult to make much sense of any of the film’s sequences, much less connect them in any meaningful way – but if that’s what you’re trying to do here, you’re already lost.

The key to watching “ODDSAC” is to sit back and let the patchwork audio-visual magic send you where it will; in other words, watch the images like you would listen to an album by Animal Collective. Themes and characters repeat, drifting in and out of the meandering pseudo-plot; the ending scene ties back to the opening scene, but no real story emerges from a single 54-minute viewing.

Instead, we are given a series of surreal vignettes, interspersed with indulgently layered deep dye visualizer sequences. This structure should be familiar to anyone who has listened to a few Animal Collective albums; it follows the same pattern of abstract textures into more overtly structured pieces, and every visual tone shift is matched beautifully by the band’s equally dramatic transitions.

Musically, “ODDSAC” is an aptly titled grab bag of songs and textures that sound like they could have been pulled from nearly every stage of Animal Collective’s ten-year career. We get (esoteric namedrop alert) that moonlit, macabre Panda Bear folk tune à la “Sung Tongs,” plenty of the organic drone of “Here Comes the Indian,” just enough of the grating noisiness of “Danse Manatee,” and a few moments of outright pop, like “Feels” or “Strawberry Jam” with a production style closer to their latest release “Fall Be Kind.”

Those big pop moments pay off magnificently when they burst from the sensory miasma, with delicate suspense built in equal part by the visuals and the sounds. One scene has Avey Tare, painted red, wearing what looks like the plaster cast of a xenomorphic skull on his head, screaming incomprehensible profanity at a group of young women in a low-lit kitchen setting. The feverish rabble-rousing escalates to a climax, and suddenly a beat begins to sound, heralding the fourth and last true music video of the film.

So, it’s got three or four singles and a lot of hypnotic psychedelic negative space – what is this album missing? A big, cinematic slow-burner, and that comes just before the aforementioned sequence. What’s more – it is a 15 minute horror show about a sad vampire, hostile marshmallows, and the most viscerally terrifying family camping trip you will ever witness. This segment alone may be the best thing that Animal Collective has produced since “Strawberry Jam.”

In the brief Q&A session following the first of two screenings of “ODDSAC” at Hampshire College Monday night, Danny Perez and Animal Collective members Geologist and Deakin discussed the creative process. Despite a few annoyingly specific and pretentious questions from the audience, they maintained their friendly, informal composure – Perez jokingly claimed that they chose to use a vampire in the movie “because we were all really big fans of the ‘Twilight’ series.”

They also confirmed that, although the film’s DVD/iTunes release is scheduled for June 29 , there are no plans for a soundtrack release. This is regrettable, and may or may not be tied up in studio contractual obligations, but the visuals and music are so well paired in this freaky fever-dream that they don’t ever belong apart.

Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]