Keeping Score: Animal Collective & The Wicker Man


This is Keeping Score. Every other week, I recommend a movie and an album, sort of like an unofficial score, for your consumption. 

In honor of all things spooky and Halloween-y, I’ve been watching more horror movies recently. When I first saw Ari Aster’s Midsommar, it encapsulated the perfect horror movie theater experience. The theater was packed, hot, and at one point a physical fight broke out in the few seats over my shoulder. People gasped, yelled, and cringed together. In the absence of a packed theater, the music and soundtracks of horror films can do the affective work to build the atmosphere and experience. 

The 1973 movie, The Wicker Man (which influenced Midsommar) is one of my newer favorites. The movie follows Sergeant Howie as he arrives on a Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. When he arrives, the islanders insist that the girl never existed. Determined to source out the truth of what happened to the young girl, Howie stays on the strange island through their May Day festival. 

As we find out, the Scottish island is home to the practice of a sort of Scottish paganism, which includes festivals (like May Day), a liberated approach to sex and nudity, and mystical appraoch to animals/death. All of this is set to a soundtrack that blends elements of folk rock and almost medieval melodies. Howie’s pursuit of a missing child and the attitudes of the islanders contrast in a way that makes the sweet and comfortable folkiness of the soundtrack effectively horrifying.

Animal Collective’s 2005 album, Feels, gets at a sort of similar repurposing. There are moments that almost feel like any old indie album– “Did You See The Words” and “Grass” are a sort of uncanny valley mix of percussion and catchy melodies. Even when Feels feels familiar, there is dissonance and distortion that take you away from your expectations. 

“Banshee Beat” and “Bees” are slow, repetitive, and almost eerie in a way that made me think of The Wicker Man. Both take repetition and draw them out, building a tension and letting themselves unfold. Also like The Wicker Man, the release is worth the wait. 

“Turn Into Something” is a conclusion that Feels teases out. Joining distorted electric guitar and chorus, the conclusion is back where the album began. 

Take some time this Halloweekend to enjoy a horror classic and music favorite.

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