Animal Collective’s 2018 audiovisual album, “Tangerine Reef” delivers a swirling, sonic look into a colorful world of coral. Played in tandem with footage of fluorescent underwater wonders, “Tangerine Reef” meditates darkly on the environmental consequences to come.
The visual tone poem is a collaboration with Coral Morphologic, a Miami-based duo that grows and photographs coral. The collaboration was made to commemorate the 2018 International Year of the Reef.
Coral reefs have become a symbol for environmental change. As the oceans continue to warm, coral begins to sicken and die. Already, we’ve lost an estimated 19% of the world’s coral reefs. The vibrant colors seen throughout “Tangerine Reef” come from algae that lives on coral. As the oceans warm, the algae leave their hosts. The coral turns bone-white in a process known as coral bleaching, killing the algae and the coral they leave behind.
When experienced all in one take, it can be difficult to distinguish the separations between tracks in “Tangerine Reef”. The constant, droning synths pulse in an atmospheric haze that is at times so reminiscent of Blue Planet that I almost expect to hear David Attenborough’s voice chiming in to narrate on the intricacies of coral environments.
The medium of visual tone poetry suits a group as eclectic as Animal Collective. “Tangerine Dream” is loose in style, nearly devoid of structure, and strives to touch both the elemental and the collective conscious. In showing the beauty of coral ecosystems, “Tangerine Reef” does a splendid job of raising awareness for the detrimental impacts of global warming.
While the combination of close-up coral footage and atmospheric tone poetry is both incredibly interesting and supportive of a good cause, it struggles to maintain a sense of momentum throughout its fifty-four minute run time. Without the visual component, “Tangerine Dream” has a hard time standing on its own as a full-length album.
Vocals appear from time to time, almost always drowning in reverb and wavering effects. The abstract lyrics convey a sense of loss in their delivery, but sometimes the meaning is what gets lost, with lyrics like those found in “Coral By Numbers”:
“And where it starts is at the heart
It doesn’t matter if you count the numbers from the part
And when it ends is at the part
Even kids attracting numbers from this dark heart”
In this, and some other tracks, the lyrics devolve into continuous repetition, sometimes to the point of stuttering syllables like a broken record. Tracks like, “Coral Understanding” balance the abstract with more concrete, yet simple phrases.
“Better days ahead
It’s, it’s bad right now
It’s, it’s big right now
(There is no medicine once you open that)”
Although some lyrics seem more accessible than others, for the most part, they drift in and out of awareness. It seems almost intentional that the lyrics take a backseat throughout “Tangerine Reef”. The visuals are so intense and mesmerizing, the music so haunting and ethereal, that the vocals seem to be used for the added effect of the human voice more than anything else.
While “Tangerine Reef” stands alone as a truly unique audiovisual experience, the album by itself doesn’t stand alone as a strong enough work to listen without the visuals. The abstract, wavering lyrics are at times hard to make out. At best, the audio version of “Tangerine Reef” serves to create a relaxing background atmosphere for an evening bath accompanied by incense or candles.
That being said, the visuals of “Tangerine Reef” are simply breathtaking in their beauty. Even if you think you have a good idea of what coral looks like, you’ll be blown away by the vibrant colors and high definition close up shots of living coral.
Still, considering the importance of the coral reefs to the marine ecosystem, “Tangerine Reef” succeeds as a tribute, warning, and tragic farewell. If you have an hour to spare, a fondness for atmospheric music, and even an ounce of curiosity, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy “Tangerine Reef”.
Leave a Reply