Originally recorded in 2001 and released in 2003 under the name Campfire Songs, this eponymously titled album serves as a record of the early experiments in melodic atmospherics by members of what would eventually become the Animal Collective (featuring Panda Bear, Avey Tare, and Deakin). Recorded on a screened-in porch in one take on a brisk November day, the album is like the psychedelic folk soundtrack to a camping trip that never happened. With its sparse combination of nature sounds, meandering acoustic guitars, and ethereal vocal harmonies, Campfire Songs contains ambient landscapes that start out feeling inscrutable before eventually becoming strangely warm and inviting. The lyrics, barely discernible, give the feeling of an eavesdropped conversation, requiring the listener to saddle themselves up to their campfire and listen intently to find their hidden meaning. Despite the wandering nature of the songs, nothing feels accidental or improvised. The airy beauty of the vocal harmonies and the flowing transitions between songs show a real sense of purpose and vision, creating a series of tracks that are more musical than soundscapes, but not quite songs in the traditional sense. While Campfire Songs isn’t nearly as dense or kinetic as Animal Collective’s later work would be, it shows off their penchant for layered harmony and experimental song structures, which makes for a fine piece of atmospheric headphone listening.
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AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney