Fatcat Records - 2003 - 108 minutes

Striking a balance between abstract sounds and their more musical tendencies is a challenge the Animal Collective obviously relish. The warped and utterly compelling results can be heard on these previously unavailable recordings. The release, earlier this year, of their hugely impressive 'Here Comes The Indian' album - and the much deserved hype that accompanied it - have prompted this European release of the group's first two efforts on double-CD.

The Animal Collective is essentially an umbrella term for a grouping of four musicians - Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist and Deaken - whose combined sound is as unconventional as their adopted names. The first album here, 'Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished', is a collaboration between two of those, Avey Tare and Panda Bear.

The more accessible of the two, 'Spirit They're Gone…' features surprisingly pop-orientated songs and melodies, yet these are submerged in oceans of feedback and dissonance to the point where they are completely unrecognisable. The production here is superb, tracks such as 'April and the Phantom' and 'Chocolate Girl', which could have been pop songs in the wrong hands, are left mangled, distorted and oddly beautiful.

The electronic experimentation is more evident on 'Danse Manatee', the follow up album and second CD in this package. By this point the Collective had gained two members and lost it's already loose grip on melody and song structure. Strangely, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Whispered vocals, swirling samples and strange atonal drones dominate this record, standout songs such as 'Meet the Light Child' aren't really songs at all, but are no less intriguing for that. The adventurous listener will find much to enjoy in the hypnotic sounds of this New York based outfit.

There is a wide-eyed enthusiasm and adventurous spirit to these recordings that is contagious. Admittedly, this is art-rock at its most obscure and indulgent, but it is created with a sonic palette that is awe-inspiring.

Ray Donoghue

Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished Tracklisting: Spirit they've Vanished - April and the Phantom - Untitled - Penny Dreadfuls - Chocolate Girl - Everyone Whistling - La Rapet - Bat You'll Fly - Someday I'll Grow to be as Big as the Giant - Alvin Row

Danse Manatee Tracklisting: A Manatee Dance - Penguin Penguin - Another White Singer (Little White Glove) - Essplode - Meet the Light Child - Runnin the Round Ball - Bad Crumbs - The Living Toys - Throwin the Round Ball - Ahhh Good Country - Lablakely Dress - In the Singing Box