I’m afraid to forget the smell of you

With each band member with a moniker like “Panda Bear” and “Geologist,” it’s not a stretch to say Animal Collective is a band of weirdos for weirdos. And this week we’re going to the zoo!

We’re talking about a band defined by and celebrated for their haunting hoots, eclectic vocal harmonies, and instrumental playfulness. They have a song called “The Bees” and another called “We Tigers” for crying out loud (which is pure nonsense but still kinda slaps, tbqfh).

But fear not! If you’ve been reluctant to let your freak flag fly and take a dive into Animal Collective’s discography, I’ve got a pretty ~tame~ earworm for you this week that will show you this band isn’t just always about the gimmicks. They’ve (sometimes) got the lyrical prowess to back up their experimental edge and quirkiness.

Listening activity: Lurk around your apartment, like the woman creeping in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, while this plays.

Man of Oil,” a song off their 2017 EP Meeting of the Waters, has stuck with me recently for its ability to contain multitudes. It starts haunting and cryptic, setting us up for a war-like environment (between nature and man, maybe?):

Peaceful songs
Will get along
If we leave 'em together in the armory
On my knees
My head on your queasy stomach
Can not keep my chin up

There’s a sickness brewing in this sound. A general sense the speaker is unwell, queasy, unable to go on. Embedded with reference to the senses – sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing – this song quite literally grapples with what it means to be human: “I find it so hard to hear you/Say you think that I never hear you.”

My favorite verse-chorus drives this further:

I woke to sweats in the night
Strange sensation to feel alive
I find it so hard to tell you
I'm afraid to forget the smell of you

Rhyming you with you between sonic drone sounds? Iconic! Sign me up. The panic in these words present a struggle of feeling and being – strange, alive, afraid. It’s almost like Frankenstein coming to life. There’s even something earthly and romantic about the earworm “I find it so hard to tell you/ I’m afraid to forget the smell of you,” especially when placed within a sea of otherwise unpleasant imagery.

I must have had senses and scents on the brain, as Faye Webster’s sweet lyric “The right side of my neck/ Still smells like you” was a close second for this week.

Avey Tare goes onto hum-howl before shifting his pitch in the chorus, surprising us with which words he places emphasis on:

Wizard with a wand
Competing with the lightning
Coward and also a king
And a man of oil

It’s even tempting to interpret the lyrics as a nod to Wizard of Oz characters: a tin man (of oil?), a scarecrow, and a lion, respectively lacking a heart, a brain, and courage.

There’s also an environmentalist angle to these lyrics. The tension between nature (e.g. “floating logs on the dark stream,” “competing with the lightning”) and powerful men (e.g. wizards, kings, men of oil) is persistent:

Floating logs on the dark stream
Move me unlike apologies I'm texting
Broken limbs filled with smooth snakeskin
On a Ferris wheel far from cash, love

Could it even be a critique of the capitalist oil system coming from a group of babbling freak-folkers? In any case, I’m here for it.

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