vulture lists

Every Animal Collective Album, Ranked

Will there ever be another band like Animal Collective? The question may sound trite, but it’s impossible to overstate the temporal singularity of what Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), Brian Weitz (Geologist), Dave Portner (Avey Tare), and Josh Dibb (Deakin) have accomplished over the last 20 years of their career. Since emerging from the more outré corners of the NYC music scene in the early 2000s, Animal Collective experienced a steady rise in indie culture — practically reshaping it with every major release up to 2009’s canonical Merriweather Post Pavilion — while remaining totally and utterly inimitable stylistically. Time was you could identify AnCo ripoff acts from a mile away, an irritating trend that only spoke to the mystical influence they held during their arguable creative peak.

In addition to the ten studio albums they’ve released since 2000’s Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, Animal Collective have kept a steady pace by releasing a stream of EPs, live records, and one-off collaborations —not to mention the bounty of solo material the quartet has put out in the interim. Regarding approachability, they have amassed one of the most intimidating discographies of the century so far, recently adding another inscrutable entry (their latest LP, this year’s Tangerine Reef) to their estimable catalogue. If you’re new to the band’s work, it’s hard to figure out what to dive into and what to skip past — and that’s where we come in.

What follows is an extensive ranking of almost every single thing Animal Collective’s members have released, both as a group and solo. We made a few exceptions for the sake of standards: EPs or singles largely featuring remixes and/or not representing substantial releases have been excluded (sorry, Monkey Gone to Burntown), as well as any works that aren’t able to be heard with a simple pair of headphones and a listening device. That second qualifier means that Animal Collective’s “visual album” ODDSAC from 2010 has been excluded, as well as Panda Bear’s A Day With the Homies EP from earlier this year, which was vinyl-only and still hasn’t been made available for streaming services.

35. Avey Tare and Kria Brekkan, Pullhair Rubeye (2007)
There’s a not-terrible album hidden within this collaborative LP from Portner and his then-wife/Múm member Kria Brekkan … you just have to play the record backwards. Yes, I’m being totally serious: after committing these eight songs to tape, the pair decided the album would be more interesting if released with the audio played in reverse, as well as sped up at certain points. To say Pullhair Rubeye is unlistenable is like saying water is hydrating — but as much as it stands as the toughest, least-suitable-for-consumption AnCo-related release, you kind of have to respect Portner and Brekkan for following their weird, wild arrow here.

34. Animal Collective, Animal Crack Box (2009)
Animal Collective have a few hard-to-track-down releases in their arsenal, Animal Crack Box being one of the most difficult to obtain in physical form to date. The 3x-vinyl box set documenting multiple live sessions from the band’s early-2000s era was initially auctioned off on eBay to benefit Doctors Without Borders in March of 2009, receiving a 1,000-copy drop a few months later. It’s the kind of release that only the most hard-core fans would shell out dough for, and not just because of its blink-and-you-missed-it exclusivity: as a live document, Animal Crack Box doesn’t provide the type of revelations that 2002’s Hollindagain occasionally achieved, instead offering some intense and formative early versions of songs to dig through. (Note: Animal Crack Box isn’t currently available on streaming services, but it’s out there to listen to if you look hard enough — or, you know, just do a simple Google.)

33. Animal Collective, Transverse Temporal Gyrus (2012)
Essentially a recording of the music Animal Collective created for the 2010 installation at NYC’s Guggenheim, along with frequent visual collaborator Danny Perez, released as a limited-edition 12-inch for Record Store Day. Upon release, Animal Collective also made available an immersive, since-deaded website that allowed users to virtually experience the installation, along with a torrent-downloaded program that allegedly produced “new and unique” versions of the audio component every time it was run on your computer. Both formats were assuredly more interesting to experience than this 24-minute release of formless ambience and museum-dressing music.

32. Jane, COcOnuts (2002)
The first release from this project featuring Lennox and former Other Music record clerk Scott Mou, 2002’s Paradise, has disappeared from sight; you can still track down the second record from later that year through YouTube. The project’s third and final record, Berserker from 2005, is a more refined take on the noisy, distant-sounding experiments here, which redefine the very nature of the word “rough.”

31. Animal Collective, Tangerine Reef (2018)
Attendees at this year’s David Lynch–curated Festival of Disruption in Brooklyn might have found themselves confused (guilty as charged) when the billed Animal Collective performance comprised entirely of unreleased material was absent a member: Lennox, who up until this year contributed to every Animal Collective album. The performance — which featured underwater video projections from Coral Morphologic and was a sequel of sorts to the Miami art exhibition “Coral Orgy” the year previous — was recorded with the intention of being released as a live album, but after the abundance of crowd chatter (again, guilty as charged) scuttled said plans, the trio sans Lennox decamped to Dibb’s Baltimore recording studio and captured the material to tape in a matter of days. Tangerine Reef is meant to be an audiovisual album, with accompanying visuals by CM, but watching the project to get a better sense of its depth is about as essential as the mere act of listening to the album’s swirling ambience. The band has stated that the project bears the intention of drawing greater awareness to coral reef conservation — a noble cause that nonetheless fails to mask the fact that Tangerine Reef is Animal Collective’s most tossed-off and ephemeral album, purely by design.

30. Animal Collective, Meeting of the Waters EP (2017)
A little personal backstory-slash-disclaimer here: This EP was originally recorded in the Amazon rain forest for the Viceland series Earth Works, as part of a branded initiative that I briefly worked on for the company. I’ve interviewed the band a few times over the last decade, and I ran into Weitz in the Vice offices after my latest chat with them; he expressed disappointment to me that their episode of the short-lived music-ecology docuseries couldn’t involve scuba diving. Anyway: This EP is a return to form of sorts, as Portner and Weitz (the only two members featured on the release) dive deep into the type of free-form experimentation that marked the band’s discography leading up to 2003’s Here Comes the Indian. Think of it as a precursor to Tangerine Reef, purely for reasons of contextualization.

29. Jane, Berserker (2005)
The final album from this Lennox-featuring side project is a bit intimidating for the uninitiated — four tracks, spread out over 54 minutes — and it’s more of a curio than anything else, another look at the more extreme musical impulses of Animal Collective’s members. The front half’s noise-baths and occasional glistens of melody are intriguing, but be warned: The static-splayed 24-minute closing track “Swan” is completely unforgiving.

28. Avey Tare, Split Series #16 (2003)
This split release with experimental music veteran David Grubbs features three Avey originals on its B-side; the first two — “Crumbling Land” and “Misused Barber” — are brief, abrasive pop abstractions, but the 13-minute “Abyss Song (Abby’s Song)” is the real standout, a hypnotic collage of drone and low-level frequency squeals with Portner’s watery vocals and what sounds like field recordings of children playing tucked away at its center.

27. Animal Collective, Hollindagain (2002)
This is a weird one, even by Animal Collective’s standards: Comprised of live material recorded during various gigs with Black Dice in 2001 as well as a session on New Jersey radio station WFMU, Hollindagain (which initially saw limited release before getting reissued by Animal Collective’s own Paw Tracks label in 2006) features almost entirely unreleased material that never made it to the studio — save for Danse Manatee cut “Lablakely Dress.” Much of Animal Collective’s pre–Sung Tongs material is rough around the edges, and Hollindagain’s seven pieces are certainly evidence of that, with harsh synth tones and hand-slapped percussion sharing space with vocal vibing and bursts of percussive din. Real heads know that the avalanche-causing intensity of “Forest Gospel” is still plenty potent, but this release is otherwise a bit hard to get through if you’re not fully committed to AnCo’s more experimental side.

26. Animal Collective, Danse Manatee (2001)
Weitz has allegedly claimed that Animal Collective’s second proper album is his favorite in the band’s discography, which is at least easy to understand from a nostalgic perspective — it’s the first record he pitched in on, along with Portner and Lennox. He also admitted on the Animal Collective fan-hub forum Collected Animals in 2011 that “Most people still dislike it,” which is similarly easy to understand. Recorded “wherever we could find a quiet spot,” in his words, Danse Manatee is far more abstract than its predecessor, with vibey vocals and a variety of piercing frequencies dialed way up from the bursting squalls occasionally featured on Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished. “Essplode” would make it onto live sets near the end of the 2000s, which makes sense; it’s the most streamlined track on this record, which otherwise stands as a curiosity for fans looking to connect the dots between the band’s many eras of sound.

25. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, Enter the Slasher House (2014)
This one-off band — featuring members of Ponytail and Dirty Projectors —represented Portner’s attempt to capture his songwriting approach in a one-room, one-mic setting. Admirable, but the punky attitude of Enter the Slasher House ends up being more enervating than it does enjoyable, reflecting his most challenging sonic side. Worth checking out if only for “Little Fang,” a sparkly and straightforward swaggering pop song recalling Animal Collective friend Ariel Pink’s own glam mutations.

24. Panda Bear, Panda Bear (1999)
Lennox stated back in 2004 that he ultimately opted against reissuing his first solo album — recorded before he turned 21 years old — because “I feel like such a different person now,” which is understandable. Still, this early release (which you can track down on YouTube, if so inclined) is interesting in the way it provides some insight into his formative influences, with rough tracks that recall Chelsea Girl-era Nico and minimal techno. Far from essential, but it might be worth tracking down if you’re the completist type.

23. Animal Collective, Painting With (2015)
Animal Collective’s band members have stated that the inspirations behind their tenth studio LP included prehistoric eras and the first Ramones album, decamping to Studio 3 at Hollywood’s EastWest Studios — the same recording space that Brian Wilson holed up in while working on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Smile. This is an Animal Collective album, so naturally none of those influences are really reflected on the final product here — that is, save for the Ramones’ proclivity toward keeping things quick and intense. An uneven grab-bag of thorny, squishy experimental pop that features contributions from John Cale and saxophone master Colin Stetson, Painting With isn’t the worst 2010s Animal Collective album — but the glimmers of casual brilliance tucked away in album highlights like “Golden Gals” and lead single “FloriDada” make the tinny-sounding din that the album otherwise exudes that much more frustrating.

22. Animal Collective, Water Curses EP (2008)
Pro tip for the non-heads out there: Skip this slight collection of Strawberry Jam outtakes and head straight to the “Peacebone” single released the year before, which features the sublime Feels-era live staple “Safer” in pristine studio-recorded form. Animal Collective’s B-sides have typically been uncommonly strong, and Water Curses is somewhat of an aberration of that unofficial rule — but the fact that it’s easy to point listeners to other B-sides from the Strawberry Jam era is just proof of how creatively fruitful this period was for Animal Collective.

21. Animal Collective, Live at 9:30 (2015)
Throughout the 2000s, Animal Collective cultivated a reputation for live shows that could be as perplexing as they were revelatory, often using the majority of their set list to test out new material from their next album while touring behind their current release. This live document from the Centipede Hz tour, then, showcases how this unique and often thrilling approach changed after the band cultivated a larger audience in the wake of Merriweather Post Pavilion’s success. It’s their best live record by default, re-contextualizing some of Centipede’s tougher material and featuring the return of Feels-era live staple “The Purple Bottle” — but (and this is nitpicking) one wishes the band would’ve excavate a live set from an earlier era for release instead, Dick’s Picks–style. As the proud owner of lost-in-junk-drawer hard drives containing multiple live-set recordings from the Feels and MPP eras, they would surely be more interesting than this purely competent release.

20. Avey Tare, Eucalyptus (2017)
Essentially his 2010 solo debut, Down There, writ large, Portner’s second solo effort is unwieldy in length, clocking in at over an hour with 15 tracks and lacking the punch of relative brevity that its predecessor possessed. Otherwise, there’s plenty to enjoy on this solitudinous, meditative record, with songs that faintly recall the acoustic reveries of Animal Collective’s Campfire Songs/Sung Tongs era (“PJ,” “Ms. Secret,” “Selection of a Place”) and swirling, kaleidoscopic pop (“Jackson 5,” “Roamer”). It’s a lot to dig into, but the gems are worth seeking out.

19. Animal Collective, Keep + Animal Collective (2011)
Imagine telling someone who was into Animal Collective in the 2000s that they would eventually collaborate with a shoe company to release their own branded sneaker, along with a 12-minute cassette of unreleased material. Imagine! Yes, the mere existence of Keep + Animal Collective speaks to the band’s post-MPP cultural capital, and the contents speak to the band’s overall and quiet refusal to alter their own creative idiosyncrasies in response: The tape features a solo song from each member, which proves fascinating if you’re invested in particle-separating Animal Collective’s strange alchemy. Otherwise, it’s far from essential to seek out in any fashion, especially since the highlight — Panda Bear’s “The Preakness” — was later featured as part of the deluxe edition of his 2011 LP Tomboy.

18. Animal Collective, Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished (2000)
The first Animal Collective album (retroactively designated as such) is technically a collaboration between Portner and Lennox, with the former bringing the songs and most of the instrumentation and the latter credited with drums and “perfect percussion.” Portner told music journalist Simon Reynolds in 2005 that after sending the album to Southern Records, label personnel claimed that the music was making dogs literally run out of the room while it was on — a funny anecdote, but perhaps overstating the album’s abstractions. Sure, there’s a fair amount of high-frequency noise splayed across Spirit (assumedly triggering said canine aversions), but a starry-eyed sense of songcraft otherwise marks this album, which was recorded during a “dark time” for Portner while moving from Baltimore to New York City. The standout: “Penny Dreadfuls,” a quietly explosive eight-minute epic written when Portner was 16 and offering an early hint at the echo-laden, piano-heavy sound that the band would explore on Feels five years later.

17. Animal Collective, People EP (2006)
One of the most identifiable traits of Animal Collective’s otherwise anything-goes discography is the band’s tendency to release an EP of studio-recorded leftovers following one of their proper full-lengths. People followed the release of 2005’s Feels, and its strung-out title track is the clear highlight —it’s so nice, they included it twice, its live and studio versions bookending this release.

16. Animal Collective, Campfire Songs (2003)
Just a few months before Animal Collective would close the door on their noisy, highly experimental early days with Here Comes the Indian, this initially limited-release one-take recording began making the rounds, offering a taster of where Portner and Lennox (joined by Dibb for the first time here) would take their sound just a year later with the epochal Sung Tongs. If that proves confusing when trying to establish a sense of canon, keep in mind this was a loose, formative time for Animal Collective as a band, the core lineup having not yet been established on record. Recorded on a Maryland screen porch onto three Sony MiniDisc players (yes, really), Campfire Songs captures the midpoint between Indian and Sung Tongs: formally loose and subsisting on ambience, with the occasional melody emerging to the surface before disappearing just below the recording’s shimmering glow.

15. Animal Collective, Centipede Hz (2012)
The confusion surrounding the release of Animal Collective’s ninth studio album was palpable and immediate: This is how they planned to follow up one of the best records of the past decade? Of course, expecting anything less than a total about-face from AnCo following the astounding breakthrough that Merriweather Post Pavilion represented was a miscalculation of what the band stood for — a lack of understanding that they’ve typically followed their own muse instead of capitulating to what their fan base (not to mention the marketplace) expects from them. In the rearview, Centipede Hz still doesn’t quite hang with the best of the band’s 2000s output, but it’s aged slightly better by way of what’s followed it. The harsh textures and hyperspeed melodies still occasionally grate, but a few gems — the radiant, Deakin-led “Wide Eyed,” Panda Bear’s clattering hymnal “New Town Burnout,” the industrial grind of “Monkey Riches” —offer slivers of light emerging from Centipede Hz’s dark, proggy structure.

14. Deakin, Sleep Cycle (2016)
Perhaps the closest any member of the band has come to courting real-deal controversy, Deakin’s sole solo album to date was initially marred by Dibb’s Kickstarter fund in 2009 to raise money for the album’s recording. After more than $26,000 raised and years gone by without anything to show for it, Dibb issued an apology to his backers in 2012 and eventually delivered on his promise four years later. Despite the hullabaloo, Sleep Cycle is actually quite a nice record, its seven tracks showcasing the songwriting of one of Animal Collective’s less visible members. Dibb was noticeably absent for the recording of Merriweather Post Pavilion, which might’ve cast doubt on the value of his contributions to the band for skeptics — but the hushed, gorgeous collagist pop of Sleep Cycle is proof that his work can hang with that of the band’s more visible members.

13. Animal Collective, The Painters EP (2017)
The rare Animal Collective leftovers EP that outstrips its predecessor in quality. It’s a bit mind-boggling why these four gems from the Painting With sessions didn’t make it to the proper album — but it’s also hard to understand why Animal Collective make any of the decisions they make, so just roll with it. The songs are smoother, the vocal takes are more memorable, and — let’s face it — the vibe is generally less annoying than the strident miniatures of Painting With. Points for a fascinating cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Jimmy Mack,” one of the most interesting Animal Collective renditions of another artists’ song since Lennox and Portner regularly covered Nirvana’s “On a Plain” during live appearances in the Sung Tongs era.

12. Animal Collective, Here Comes the Indian (2003)
If not the band’s first true classic, then at least the record that suggested ambitions greater than their early-2000s NYC noisenik peers. It’s somewhat ironic that, despite seeing release just months after the literally-recorded-outside Campfire Songs, Here Comes the Indian actually sounds like the wilderness caught to tape: mossy, ecstatic in its juxtaposition between chaos and calm, and teeming with life at the oddest and most incongruous corners. “Slippi” represented the band’s first true anthem — as well as a better take on traditional rock music than they’ve attempted over the course of their last few studio albums — while “Panic” is a glorious soup of sound that collapses in hushed-mic whispers and squalls of noise. If you need an entryway into Animal Collective’s wilder material, start here.

11. Panda Bear, Young Prayer (2004)
Panda Bear’s second solo album is also his most nakedly personal work. A monastic, wordless document recorded around the time of his father’s death, Young Prayer was completed over the course of a few days and recorded by Dibb, comprised largely of Lennox’s soft, expressive vocals and acoustic guitar. The death of Lennox’s father still has an impact on his solo work to this day (not to mention Merriweather Post Pavilion’s closing track “Brother Sport”), but the pain and will to persevere is most strongly felt on this record. It’s not an easy listen — whether or not you know the backstory —but give yourself into it, and it more than gives back.

10. Avey Tare, Down There (2010)
There’s always been shades of darkness to Portner’s solo work and his contributions to Animal Collective, but his first proper solo album represented his most introspective and emotional material yet. Down There is unquestionably his strongest non-AnCo project thus far, its swampy pop radiating with submerged melancholia and mossy melodies. Centerpiece “Cemeteries” is his most beautiful post–Merriweather Post Pavilion song to date, a sorrowful and contemplative ballad that would also represent the last time he worked in this quiet, shimmery mode for a while.

9. Animal Collective, Prospect Hummer EP (2005)
The first collaborative work Animal Collective engaged in also resulted in one of its most impactful EPs: Prospect Hummer came about after Dibb, Portner, and Lennox were introduced to then-inactive British folk singer Vashti Bunyan during a 2004 tour, and following the release of the four-track Bunyan collab, she was coaxed out of retirement by the band’s then-label Fat Cat and has since released several gorgeous solo records. Partially comprised of reworked Sung Tongs demos, there’s something distinctively casual and beautiful about Prospect Hummer’s rustic quiet, and there’s little doubt that Bunyan’s voice — which uncommonly resembles the sound a glass bottle makes when you blow atop its opening — contributes greatly to that vibe. “My daughter says she can hear me smiling on the title track,” Bunyan told Simon Reynolds in 2005, and similar to being greeted from a day in the cold with a hot mug of tea, it’s nearly impossible to hear Prospect Hummer without eliciting a mile-wide grin.

8. Panda Bear, Tomboy (2011)
Talk to any Animal Collective fan, and they will likely get a little defensive while praising Panda Bear’s fourth solo album. Which is a weird position to take for an album that was critically acclaimed! But it’s understandable, on a level: Tomboy had the unenviable task of following 2007’s classic Person Pitch, and its long gestation only further stoked anticipation to ridiculous heights. It’s much easier to appreciate Tomboy’s off-white, spacious guitar-and-voice sound design — spiritually, not far off from 2004’s Young Prayer— when divorced from the weight of expectation, and its lovely balladry (not to mention the intense head-rush of penultimate track “Afterburner”) is intoxicating no matter what the context. It’s not the best Panda Bear album— not even the second-best, arguably, but that’s less a testament to any of Tomboy’s perceived faults and more owing to the strength of Panda Bear’s discography.

7. Animal Collective, Feels (2005)
The run from Campfire Songs to this, Animal Collective’s sixth album, still stands as their most productive period to date. Neither representing the culmination of their work during that period nor reflecting an entirely new direction for the band, the electric and freaked-out Feels featured Dibb and Weitz returning, along with a temporary fifth member contributing throughout: former Múm member Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir, who was then married to Portner and would later get in the studio with him again on the intentionally inscrutable Pullhair Rubeye. Her mark is certainly felt on Feels; the piano fantasias that make up “Daffy Duck” and “Loch Raven” bear resemblance to Múm’s miniature, computerized post-rock the Icelandic outfit excelled at earlier in the decade. But in the rearview, Feels comes across as a chrysalis form of its exemplary follow-up, 2007’s Strawberry Jam, particularly during its explicitly rock-y moments (“The Purple Bottle,” “Grass,” “Turn Into Something”). Fittingly, plenty of Strawberry Jam rough drafts made up setlists for the tour behind Feels — an explosive and trippy run of live shows that, in this writer’s opinion, would come to be matched only by the band’s incredible pre–Merriweather Post Pavilion itinerary.

6. Animal Collective, Sung Tongs (2004)
There’s a reason that Lennox and Portner recently commenced in the very un–Animal Collective activity of playing this album in its entirety on tour. One of a few breakthroughs the band would experience during the 2000s, the looped, acoustic folk mutations of Sung Tongs had something for everyone: If you were the casual indie observer befuddled by the band’s previous work, it provided the perfect entryway into their more sonically unforgiving territory by way of sweet, strange melodic baubles. If you came to their fifth full-length looking to lose yourself in swatches of sound, there was the collagist dreaminess of “Visiting Friends,” or the Cocteau Twins–y tangles of “Good Lovin Outside.” And if you were an ad exec just looking for a decent sync a few years before syncs became all the rage, well, Animal Collective made for unlikely bedfellows in that particular situation, too: The jaunty “Sweet Road” would go on to soundtrack (very fittingly) a Crayola commercial. Setting aside their reputation for changing their sound from album to album, it’s telling that the band never really returned to the Sung Tongs sound on record: besides representing the final time Portner and Lennox would be the sole contributors to an Animal Collective album, the record still possesses a strange magic unique to their catalogue that they would be foolish to attempt to replicate.

5. Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam (2007)
All you need to do is take a look at the records released in 2007 (no, really, just look at them) to make the inarguable call that it was the strongest year for music of the 2000s. Animal Collective’s members contributed amply to this boom: Panda Bear’s massively influential Person Pitch dropped just in time for the spring, and Animal Collective’s seventh proper album, Strawberry Jam, would arrive in the fall. More than a few critics I’ve spoken to recently believe that Strawberry Jam outstrips the achievements made by the band just two years later with Merriweather Post Pavilion, which I still don’t quite agree with — primarily for the reason that comparing the two is an apples-and-oranges exercise triggered by the mere fact that they remain the two poppiest records in the band’s discography. Furthermore, while Merriweather was a singular reaction to Person Pitch’s own singularity, Strawberry Jam found Animal Collective refining various strains of experimental pop they’d worked in over the decade until they were near-perfect diamonds: the dead-pet tribute “Derek” briefly called back to Sung Tongs’ pastoral inclinations, the hyperspeed pop of “Winter Wonderland” tuned the high-pitched noise of Danse Manatee to a perfect frequency, and “Fireworks” — one of AnimalCollective’s loveliest and most nostalgic songs to date — fully realized Feels’ weird-rock tendencies into a big, epic sound that could conceivably fill an arena (or, at least, a festival-headlining slot). That they were able to synthesize a decade of their own catalogue into something so potent and affecting was a mark of their strengths as a group; that it wouldn’t be the last time in the decade they achieved a commercial breakthrough was as, if not more, impressive.

4. Panda Bear, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (2015)
Arguably Panda Bear’s second classic, the dubby and delightful Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper teems with high-definition life, with tactile synths and rubbery bass lines so sweet and tangy you can practically taste them on your tongue. Lennox began working on Grim Reaper while Animal Collective was recording Centipede Hz, but the record doesn’t bear any of the stridency that Centipede so divisively possessed, instead it exudes a warm psychedelic ooze that envelops every inch around it. The record’s first half bounces along like a thousand neon super-balls, but it’s Grim Reaper’s back end that is truly stunning, as he returns to the subject of his father’s death on the languid, aching ballad “Tropic of Cancer” and the skyscraping sway of “Selfish Gene.” Even though the album’s title takes inspiration from dub reggae compilations, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is about facing — and, ultimately, accepting — death and the emptiness that comes with it. Heavy shit, but only Lennox could spin such weighty subject matter into something so uniquely sublime.

3. Animal Collective, Fall Be Kind EP (2009)
The best Animal Collective EP to date, as well as their loveliest and most personal release within the format. “Graze”’s Yanni-sampling structure was effectively a prettier, less abrasive version of the proggy turn that the band would take on Centipede Hz, while “What Would I Want? Sky” flips a sample of Grateful Dead’s “Unbroken Chain” for Portner’s clearest-eyed Animal Collective song post-MPP. The seven-minute, Lennox-led stunner “I Think I Can” is expectedly holistic and gorgeous, but over time the uncommonly diaristic Portner-led “On a Highway” has possibly become the EP’s true highlight, as he murmurs over soft percussion and Lennox’s slide-whistle cries about the exhaustion of being on tour and being “jealous of Noah’s dreaming.” (A hint, too, of the relative exhaustion the band would profess to feeling after Centipede Hz’s endless tour cycle.)

2. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)
Nearly ten years after the release of Animal Collective’s eighth, and arguably best, LP, its legacy has grown to be singular and strange. The anticipation surrounding the release of Merriweather Post Pavilion at the time was nearly unprecedented for a band as outré as Animal Collective, and to this day there hasn’t been a similarly weird band coming as close to capturing the musical monoculture’s attention. MPP also ushered in indie’s class of 2009; along with Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective were seen as creating a new level of visibility for the slightly off-kilter sounds these bands worked in throughout the 2000s.

Despite the well-deserved praise, though, MPP’s influence has since been hard to discern — nonexistent, maybe, as its glistening synthetic glow didn’t quite spark any emerging indie trends beyond the album’s low-end-wielding producer, Ben Allen, enjoying a few years of increased visibility. But none of this takes away from the band’s achievements on MPP, a record that found Portner, Lennox, and Weitz (Dibb sat this one out) reaching a peak combination of emotive, streamlined arrangements and affecting lyrical imagery while drawing from hip-hop’s bass-heavy trappings and the euphoric bliss of house music. Similar to Sung Tongs, Animal Collective have since shown no interest in attempting to replicate this album’s style since, a disappointment for the many who came aboard as fans during this time —but even as their sound has become more abrasive and potentially off-putting in the past nine years, MPP still possesses its humanistic, open-hearted charms, the appeal of which hasn’t lessened one bit.

1. Panda Bear, Person Pitch (2007)
An instant classic that changed music forever, unquestionably. Setting aside the fact that Panda Bear’s third solo album led to Animal Collective’s critical and commercial epoch Merriweather Post Pavilion, it’s impossible to understate Person Pitch’s influence on the following decade of indie music. Lennox’s sampledelic-pop approach wasn’t wholly new — its closest precedents were the work of Australian electronic recluses the Avalanches and DJ Shadow’s classic debut Entroducing… — but whereas those artists worked within frameworks of hip-hop and house music, Person Pitch found Lennox creating a rhythmic swirl out of influences ranging from the Beach Boys’ golden melancholia to the motorik hum of vintage krautrock and the twinkling thump of Cologne techno label Kompakt’s catalogue. It inspired many an aspiring musician to grab a sampler and fashion a bedroom-pop project of their own; chillwave — the always-recurring subgenre of indie-pop that emerged just a few years after Person Pitch’s release — would assuredly not exist without this record.

But casting a long specter of influence is just one element of Person Pitch’s essence. A common criticism leveled toward Animal Collective’s work is that it’s too difficult and imposing to truly connect with — that the band’s unbridled and bold experimentalism can result in music that is excessively challenging or, for the outré-averse, just flat-out annoying. Just a few months before Strawberry Jam would open up the band’s sound wider than before, Person Pitch was the first — and, arguably, still strongest — sonic document from the band’s universe that radiated a warm, emotive energy. I’ve seen a few music-writing colleagues suggest of late that Person Pitch’s aching positivity has possibly not aged well when taken in context of [gestures in the distance] everything going on in the world, which is subjectively understandable — but for anyone who needs a temporary retreat to a sonic universe that’s as sunny as it is reflectively melancholic, Person Pitch will always be there for them.

Every Animal Collective Album, Ranked