For a band that’s often described as “difficult” or “noisy,” there was a great deal of pure pop pleasure to be had at Animal Collective’s Henry Fonda Music Box Theater appearance Tuesday night.
Not that the loosely constructed Baltimore group (a quartet on “Strawberry Jam,” their seventh studio album and Domino Records debut; a trio on tour) makes things easy. On first blush, the music is a densely layered, grating cacophony. The various loops and layers of “Dancer” add up to an unstable Jenga tower — the songs threaten to collapse with the addition or removal of any one element.
The wayward bassline and asymmetrical drum pattern on “Peacebone,” or the yelps that punctuate Avey Tare’s (aka David Portner) vocals, initially feel like a thumb in the eye, but, as the song develops, they resolve themselves and turn into intricate, swooning electronic pop.
But the music remains skittish and unpredictable; “Unsolved Mysteries” starts out with a thuggish jack-booted riff right out of “Sister Ray,” but ends up in a blissed-out billow of white noise; massively scaled vocal harmonies by Tare and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) can turn into Alpine yodels or become enveloped by synthesized rumbles, hisses or repeated keyboard arpeggios reminiscent of mid-’70s Philip Glass.
Bits of past psychedelia and art rock pop up throughout the night — the most obvious touchstones are the Beach Boys, Brian Eno and Pink Floyd as well as touches of XTC, Sonic Youth and, in their druggy spaciousness, jam bands such as Phish. It’s what you’d imagine Brian Wilson would sound like if he decided to be a serious electronic composer or, conversely, what Stockhausen might sound like if set his mind to writing pop songs. But most impressively, Animal Collective sounds like no one but themselves.
Animal Collective plays Gotham’s Webster Hall Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.