Surprisingly, it's taken post-punk 20 years to return to the indie rock lexicon. Yet in its new incarnation, it's been nearly all surface and no process. Bands like the Liars and Radio 4 grab the most obvious totems of the era -- Chic bass, scuttling claws of guitar, death-disco drums heavy on the tom-toms -- and make a rama-lama period noise as retro as anything by the Hives or Stripes. The willful experimentalist side of post-punk, the whiter-than-white side sourced more in Krautrock, Canterbury prog, and academic electronica than in Lee Perry or the Gap Band, has been unsurprisingly consigned to the margins. Bands from the former era like This Heat, Family Fodder, and Nurse With Wound, with their degraded avant-garde leanings, rigorous formalism, opacity and dadaist humor, would certainly induce giggling (if not gagging) in the irony-enfeebled underground of 2003.
The Animal Collective's Here Comes the Indian recalls that golden age of the "John Peel Band," where the venerable British DJ would flood London with kinetic seven-inch singles of no little oddity. The band takes lopsided indie rock à la Truman's Water, strips it of any remaining masculinity, quintuples the quirkiness, and records it through what sounds like tin cans and twine. It's a crude folk-pop-rock mash-up subjected to house-of-mirrors distortion and deeply unsettling noise. These bleakly pathetic little songs form the crooked backbone of the record. Bookending them, however, are two epic tracks of ebbing and flowing tidal action, wherein cats bay at the moon, cymbals are licked, strings pop, reel-to-reel tapes splutter, guitars squeal and humans squeal and the Smurfs sing "Kumbaya." You could call it creepy and twee (especially since these are grown men calling themselves things like Panda Bear and Geologist), and you'd be right. But Here Comes the Indian also makes for brilliant, playground seesaw sickness and uneasy listening 'round the old campfire.