To celebrate the 2018 International Year of the Reef, in conjunction with the Miami-based art/science duo Coral Morphologic, Animal Collective decided to make an audiovisual experience all about coral reefs and the importance of nature preservation. A bit of a timely release, considering that the environmentalism and global warming is a hot button issue right now. Unlike their first audiovisual effort, 2010’s ODDSAC, which was a pure psychedelic overload, this album goes for a tone that aims to be meditative and serene.
Throughout Tangerine Reef‘s 53-minute runtime, Animal Collective frontman Avey Tare’s voice slowly drifts across a set of ambient tracks with deep-sea textures and aquatic soundscapes. The production ranges from minimal to ethereal, but nearly all these tracks invoke a sense of stillness. All of this culminates into Tangerine Reef being one of the band’s most experimental albums to date.
Accompanying the album is a short film created by Coral Morphologic themselves with the description:
“Tangerine Reef is a visual tone poem consisting of time-lapse and slow pans across surreal aquascapes of naturally fluorescent coral and cameos by alien-like reef creatures..”
While viewing the film alongside the album, the listening experience is heightened and it truly draws you in. The beautiful visuals of the “alien-like reef creatures” and seascapes are nothing short of captivating. On its own, however, Tangerine Reef feels like an unrewarding slog. While the minimalist approach works wonders on songs like “Buxom” and “Coral Understanding”, where the warbling synths lend themselves well to underwater and aqua soundscapes. The lead single, “Hair Cutter”, was one of those tracks that fell victim to a sense of monotony. It slowly trods along and concludes with nary an interesting moment. Moreover, Avey Tare’s vocal performance is so unassuming and dull to the point where it’s worth questioning why he was even used.
On previous albums, Tare’s performance was always a highlight due to his ability to bring energy to a track. Here though, he is drowned out by the dense synth work and is barely audible on some songs. Truth be told, this album would be more enjoyable if it was solely instrumental based. At its best, the instrumentation can be fluorescent and bubbly, in contrast with the album’s darker and more abstract moments.
These abstract moments are largely uneventful, but some tracks do manage to be somewhat interesting. These compelling moments, in particular, are present on “Airpipe (To a New Transition), “Jake and Me”, and “Coral Realization”. On these tracks, the ambiance feels immersive and even Tare’s performance is somewhat engaging. The rest of the songs are largely so minimal that it elicits little to no reaction at all, which is the most unfortunate part of the album. “Buffalo Tomato” and “Inspector Gadget” are a few examples of this. The latter track just meanders along with no sense of direction or purpose.
While this album does have some unique qualities, Tangerine Reef’s central problem lies within its frame. The visual component of the album is truly stunning and in tandem with the album itself, is impressive at times. Unfortunately, the album portion of Tangerine Reef fails to fully realize its potential. It feels like a non-album chalked full of forgettable moments that culminate in a frustrating listening experience.