In the shadows of a New York music scene forging bold links between rock and dance music, a slew of bands are bending the connotations of electronic sound to more investigative ends. Their methods are murky and experimental in the extreme, but margins-lurking acts like Excepter, The Double, Gang Gang Dance, and scores more have gathered around a common center where organic folkways mingle with machine-minded designs.
De facto scene-leader Black Dice got its start as a hardcore punk group, but 2002's Beaches & Canyons did away with speed and warmed up to swooping, scraping washes of ambient sound. The new Creature Comforts expands the premise in new and old ways, adding a gleaming Hawaiian lilt to vintage electronics reminiscent of '50s lab-coat pinup Raymond Scott and the industrial noise of Throbbing Gristle. "Treetops" smears ray-gun shots and reverb-drenched guitar into an underwater conversation. The yawning gurgles take time to find their place, but they turn inward, becoming richer through accumulation. "Creature" wanders into one of few spells of rhythm, with plinking echoes and flanged shakers floating over a muted march beat; it sounds like R2D2 getting high by the beach. Parts of the album seem arbitrarily sparse or less than sure of their ultimate direction, but Creature Comforts congeals into a whole that finds its mind below the surface.
Graced by the kind of rigorously skewed logic that Black Dice sometimes lacks, Animal Collective has grown up around sounds that scan less like stratified music than like sonic offshoots of a holistic worldview. Past albums have run scattered routes through diffuse acoustic folk and sizzling electronic ambience, but the new Sung Tongs tightens into something more immediately digestible. "Leaf House" opens with a brilliant burst of hemming and hawing folk, voices tracing curlicue melodies and pausing to consider the abstraction of acidic vowel-sounds. "Who Could Win A Rabbit" serves as a quasi-pop song by a band big into face paint and demonic turtle costumes: Buoyant vocals course through ecstatic choral stomps that throw out drum bangs like fireworks soaring toward a field of wheat.
Animal Collective's naturalistic side comes out in slow meditations like "The Softest Voice," which lays mellow folk guitar beneath a séance of voices. Electronics babble in the foreground, but everything sounds equally brushed by the sun. Snatches of certain songs owe a debt to weird-period Brian Wilson, but Sung Tongs sounds too hermetic and comfortable in its singularity to cast such a literal gaze.