In 2018, indie weirdos Animal Collective decided to collaborate with art-science duo Coral Morphologic in order to celebrate the International Year of the Reef, an initiative to protect coral reefs across the globe. The result of the collaboration was Tangerine Reef, an audio-visual project in which all the members of Animal Collective except Panda Bear made the music (obviously) and the members of Coral Morphologic created a film that attempted to make the coral human-like, and thus more relatable to people.

Tangerine Reef wasn’t exactly impactful, at least in terms of awareness raised. Animal Collective did not include any sort of environmental message in their music. Hell, I don’t think they even bothered to mention coral in any of the songs. Instead, they created background music intended to put focus on Coral Morphologic’s work, which made a successful attempt at presenting coral in a way that proves it is a living, functioning organism and not just a zany-looking mineral deposit laying around on the bottom of the ocean. This is all well and good, but, unfortunately, not much came of this collaboration.

The audio aspect of the collaboration far overshadowed the visual aspect, which was a shame because the work Coral Morphologic did was groundbreaking and beautiful, and Animal Collective’s work was hypnotically numbing. Perhaps fairly, Animal Collective received a majority of the press, and any mention of Coral Morphologic and International Year of the Reef was nothing more than a quick aside. What’s more, most individuals ended up only listening to Animal Collective’s contribution in full without watching the accompanying film. Sure, Animal Collective pledged to donate a portion of Tangerine Reef’s proceeds to coral reef conservation efforts from the Ocean Foundation, Project Coral and Oceana, but when one aspect of the project receives all the press (neutral to negative press at that) it’s hard to feel good about projects like these.

Animal Collective, despite their intentions, did the bare minimum to be a part of this project. They merely made another album, a mediocre one, and sent it to Coral Morphologic for them to figure out how to implement. With the AC name attached, the project was sure to get press, but Animal Collective’s lack of effort drove audiences away, many unaware of Coral Morphologic’s contribution. Had the music been more captivating and its subject matter more pertinent, perhaps Tangerine Reef would have raised some serious awareness, but sadly, that isn’t the case.

The project was unsuccessful, and Animal Collective is to blame. The bottom line is, if a mixed media project like this is to be successful and spread a message, both sides need to make sure they adequately work to spread that message. Learn from Animal Collective’s mistake; it could do a lot to help our planet.

If a project like this were to be done again, perhaps the artists should release only the joint collaboration, rather than the collaboration and each individual contribution. That way, the entire project has to be experienced. In the case of Tangerine Reef, it would have been more effective to release in this manner. Coral Morphologic’s videography and Animal Collective’s music would be experienced in the way the artists and intended, and audiences would see that reefs are living and functioning. And maybe, just maybe, it would call attention to our poor treatment of reefs and the need for restoration and, at the very least, conservation.

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