“Tangerine Reef,” the latest musical project from psychedelic pop group Animal Collective, is akin to a drugged-up ocean documentary. The audiovisual album combines ambient musical explorations with vibrant footage of coral and various other reef creatures. It is not only a meditative journey down to the ocean floor but a welcome return to the group’s earlier experimental work.
The album settles into its meandering, aquatic soundscapes right from the beginning with the track “Hair Cutter.” The band’s billowing synth sounds and abstract percussive noises are filtered through strong amounts of reverb, which builds an atmosphere of a deeply submerged marine environment.
That mood persists throughout the majority of “Tangerine Reef.” At almost an hour long, the album offers up no discernable singles and the transitions between each track are subtle. But instead of functioning as an extreme test of patience, “Tangerine Reef” is captivating when experienced in its intended audiovisual format.
The band collaborated with the “art-science” duo Coral Morphologic to bring a visual counterpart to the music. Formed by marine biologist Colin Foord and musician J.D. McKay in 2007, Coral Morphologic sits somewhere between avant-garde filmmaking and environmental activism. According to the duo’s website, the work aims to document, protect and bring awareness to Miami’s coral reef organisms through stunning macro-videography.
The imagery found throughout “Tangerine Reef” is breathtaking and the up-close footage of both hard and soft coral lends itself to a psychedelic experience. Through minimal directing — only slow pans, zooms, crossfades and time-lapses — the video brings a tight focus on the fluorescent and often otherworldly marine life. It shifts through scenes that are playful, haunting and sometimes even erotic.
Animal Collective does its best to compliment this changing aquatic cast with a consistent yet dynamic flow of music. The group brings in ominous industrial noises on tracks such as “Inspector Gadget” and “Coral Realization” while others, such as “Jake and Me,” create a relaxed and comforting environment.
Three out of the four Animal Collective members — Avey Tare, Deakin and Geologist — found their way onto this new record. For Animal Collective, it’s not unusual for some members to sit albums out, but this marks the very first absence of the fourth member, Panda Bear, in the group’s now eleven album discography.
The intermittent vocals on “Tangerine Reef,” handled solely by Avey Tare, work best when they are washed out in echo and reverb. As soon as the mix allows any of the lyrics to become too audible, the immersion within the album’s ocean environment begins to break.
That type of break is most noticeable on the track “Hip Sponge,” with the repeated phrase “The time is now / Now is the time,” lyrics that the album could have done without. In other moments, however, Avey Tare’s erratic melodies fit in perfectly with the coral environment and add depth to instrumentals that may have otherwise come out flat.
The album is certainly a departure from Animal Collective’s more recent releases. The band’s 2016 album, “Painting With,” was much closer to a standard pop record. The ambient and experimental nature of “Tangerine Reef” is exciting, though. It hearkens back to an earlier period in the band’s discography that allowed for beautifully strange and abrasive albums such 2003’s “Here Comes the Indian.”
It might be a slog to some, and it is certainly weaker as a standalone audio-only album; however, as a complete audiovisual experience, this new Animal Collective project is mesmerizing. At the very least, “Tangerine Reef” gives hardcore Animal Collective fans an incentive to get high and watch stunning videos of marine life for an hour.