ODDSAC: A Review
by Mike Mineo
The anticipation of ODDSAC was relatively complex for me. Like the rest of the world, I had no clue what to expect. Even in the ambitious and relatively inaccessible world of Animal Collective, a cross-promotion between audible appeal and visual stimulation sounds like a risk to take only after completing a unanimously well-received album. 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was just that though. This made it very interesting during the Q&A after the screening, when Geologist spoke about the type of fans that like “My Girls” and not much else from the band. They may not like ODDSAC at all, he put bluntly, but there is certainly a specific audience for it. To an average bystander, this may sound like the sum of all pretension. How could a band charge people to see something intended for such a specific type of person? In the case of this wonderfully bizarre visual trip, attempting it any other way would have resulted in a film derived neither from genuine personal reflection and pure artistic integrity. This is exactly the opposite of what is accomplished in ODDSAC, a feature that while far from perfect is utterly captivating and well worth the hour-long ride for any fan that wants a peek into the band’s creative madness.
Since the majority of music comes from a group already known to many, the wild card for ODDSAC appeared to be director Danny Perez. As a longtime friend of the band, creativity between both parties appeared spontaneous in a shared admiration for horror films. Geologist specifically referenced the the 1977 Japanese horror film Hausu as one of his favorites, and this film takes a very similar approach in exposing unconventional images of deformity and cumbersome processes that eventually converge for a cohesive thematic center. The most surprising thing to me about ODDSAC, actually, was its cohesiveness. I came in expecting a series of music videos that hardly related to one another, and while it took some time to grasp the general theme, its focus was pretty evident by the mid-way point. Perez continuously places the audience in a feeling of discomfort as they watch deformed creatures attempt to complete meandering tasks that take longer than they should. It is indicative of frustration without being overly vague, as all these creatures are in situations where they are seemingly forced to complete a task, one that appears futile and utterly worthless but irritates them to the point of insanity. It does not matter that the audience has no clue what the task is (it ranges from washing rocks in a river to wandering through a forest). The most resounding effect of these images are the squeals, yelps, and bursts of physical frustration that resound with audible fluctuations in volume, tempo, and overall delivery.
I came away with the impression that the film represented artistic struggle specifically. This is shown especially in one of the last scenes, where Avey Tare (dressed in a monster suit) proceeds to scream profanities at a handful of young women after eerily watching them giggle with knives in their hands. The music shifts from a poppy key-led twinkle to a discordant thrust of industrial noise, employed respectively by either the image of the young girls or of Avey looking like a hideous deformity. When he begins to scream at them, the young ladies complete their descent into insanity by dancing about, knives in hand. Avey is jumping around too, accompanied by one of the catchiest Animal Collective tracks I have heard in some time. He takes the lead, of course, and I really wish I could describe the track more but one listen never does justice to an effort like that. I can say the same for most of the musical efforts on here. Some stood out and others did not, but at the time I was also focused intently on Perez’s visual splendor and how it collaborated with the music. Some songs were too beautiful to ignore, but I was attempting to digest the film as a whole rather than just focus on the musical material. Future watches/listens should reward more favorably in the future, which makes me look forward to its DVD release sometime in June. Even though there will be no release of the songs separately, I am sure their loyal fan base will churn out a few MP3s for those that wince at horror films.
While much of the musical material was dependent on the visual presentation, some efforts on both ends shined brightly without the significant aid of the other. The most prevalent example of this was a track where Panda Bear took distinctive lead. It was very folky and easily the most barren effort in the film, but it was easily its most breathtaking. The footage of a moonlit canoe ride to accompany it was not one of Perez’s most visually stimulating accomplishments, but it required subtlety on his part because the focus was on the music. If he tried for anything more than this sad vampire riding somberly along the river, it would have diluted the structural importance of this glistening song within the film. It was the first song that was not pulsating with noise and electronics, so seeing a shift to a more tranquil presentation was welcome, even if it only lasted a few minutes. After editing hundreds of hours of footage, great decisions like these are why I am so impressed with Perez. The song here is one of the most beautiful efforts I have heard from Panda Bear thus far, but more importantly it fits perfectly within the film. The instrumentation here is little more than minimalistic acoustic resonance, but the range he showed in his vocals was breathtaking. Particularly during the chorus, it sent chills down my spine each time. It was easily my favorite musical component of ODDSAC and I cannot wait for everyone else to hear it. I managed to include a very poor-quality MP3 below for those that refuse to wait. It is just a fragment of the song though, and an effort like this deserves a full listen in its intended form.
The parts where Perez takes lead are usually in segments between the songs accompanied by vocals, either established by odd cut-scenes involving deformed creatures speaking and tasking, or wormhole-like journeys through various visual effects. The latter is welcoming in the context of Animal Collective’s continued style of psychedelia, specifically in one instance where Perez turns hundreds of fluttering bat-like images into serene images of blue and green. In another, engrossing visual designs take place for several minutes before cleverly appearing as little more than rocks along a river. The music to accompany these transitions were always minimal, but it still felt like different efforts altogether rather than intersections to Animal Collective songs. Some images wear on a bit too long with repetition, and some of the music/audio effects do as well. But as I said, the imperfections here have their own lovable quality to them once ODDSAC ends and viewers are left to wonder what their eyes and ears just witnessed. Certain scenes are memorable enough to linger in your head for days.
One instance of this involves marshmallows, monsters, and campfires. Try to picture: A deformed monster is slowly walking through a dark forest, the only light in most shots illuminating from a distant fire. Around this fire sits several children and their parents, joyously laughing and eating marshmallows. The audience continuously sees the contrast between the children laughing and this monster slowly approaching, the campfire folk completely unaware of its growing presence. The musical accompaniment is a mere whirring, with occasional blips of static that usually occur every transition. For minutes, the audience waits for both the audible and visual climax. The monster wobbles so slow as to irritate them to death throughout, all until the unexpected happens. The marshmallows that the kids and parents were eating begin to eat them, devouring their faces until they become little more than a white goo. Subsequent images involve vampires and other staples of horror films, which coincide well with the band’s unanimous love for B-rated horror films. The narrative flow is suspect as expected, but the thematic focus is not. It is extremely apparent by this point that frustration is arguably the intimate focus of ODDSAC.This is where the collaborative process takes true form, where the audible and visual components are clearly synchronized to the best of their ability. In such demeanor, the band has clearly reached the point where unanimous satisfaction is not a primary goal. Judging by both the film and reactions, it has already attained precisely what the band wants. ODDSAC is a representation of artistic struggle and persistent defiance, resulting in an authentic and personalized success for both Animal Collective and Danny Perez.