‘Tangerine Reef’ is Animal Collective’s beautiful but forgettable ode to the deep sea

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

More than a billion corals that previously filled the Great Barrier Reef are now dead. What was once one of the most beautiful and diverse ecosystems in the world –– a structure so large that it is visible from space –– is now rapidly depleting because of the effects of man-made climate change. Needless to say, a lot of work must be done to protect the diversity and splendor of the world’s remaining reefs.

Tangerine Reef, the audiovisual collaboration between Animal Collective and art-science duo Coral Morphologic, may not be working to preserve the reefs themselves, but the two groups are doing something equally important — working to preserve the memory of what the reefs once were.

Taking the form of a “visual tone poem,” the project, created for the third International Year of the Reef, combines Animal Collective’s raucous melodies with Coral Morphologic’s images of the surreal beauty of the coral reef.

As the quiet sway of the reef’s inhabitants comes head to head with Animal Collective’s chaotic chirps, the result is utterly haunting. The structures that inhabit and compose the reef appear in stunningly vivid colors. Their movement patterns are quite unpredictable. As Animal Collective’s tinkering music buzzes around them, they seem to be not of this world. While animate creatures are few and far between in Tangerine Reef’s vision of the ocean, there is the sense that even in these plant-like structures, there is more magic, more music and certainly more life than they may reveal at first glance.

The album is synced perfectly with the visuals. The steadily revolving bounce of “Buffalo Tomato” accompanies quick pans across clusters of flower-like structures. Corals writhe across the screen to the dripping drone and steady tick of “Hip Sponge.” Meanwhile, “Best of Times (Worst of All),” the album’s apocalyptically meditative closing track, accompanies the revelation that there is an impossibly pristine geometry to the deep sea, from its smallest constituents to its overall form. As the camera zooms out of the reef, showing it as a coherent whole, the film reaches its most arrestingly beautiful moment.

The album sounds like all of the beautiful and mysterious terror of the sea. Naturally, then, it is not an easy listen. As a stand-alone release, it struggles to claim its place within the band’s vast discography. Gone are Panda Bear’s pop sensibilitiesTangerine Reef is a far cry from the band’s catchier, more upbeat releases. Here, Avey Tare’s vocals are submerged by sound, cast into depths that make them seem almost inhuman. His voice here comes in yelps and melodies stretched so thin they are almost unrecognizable.

There is an unmistakable beauty to the twinkle of synths throughout the album –– but even these sounds seem to be coming from some far-off place. At just under an hour long, the album begins to feel tiresome and repetitive without its accompanying visuals. Without the context of the film as an entry point, the album falls among the band’s less accessible releases.

Tangerine Reef isn’t Animal Collective’s first time diving into an audiovisual collaboration. The band has previously released ODDSAC, a visual album, and created “Transverse Temporal Gyrus,” an audiovisual installation piece. The major commonality between the two is that they are both all but forgotten in the grander scheme of Animal Collective’s discography, serving more as strange treats to find at film screenings or record stores than anything else. It feels as though Tangerine Reef, for all its beauty and majesty, may ultimately be subject to the same fate.

Contact Sannidhi Shukla at [email protected].