|1. Did You See the Words|
|3. Flesh Canoe|
|4. The Purple Bottle|
|6. Banshee Beat|
|7. Daffy Duck|
|8. Loch Raven|
|9. Turn Into Something|
|10. Banshee Beat|
|11. Loch Raven|
|12. Did You See the Words|
To be fair, describing the overall sound of the Animal Collective can be a daunting and impossible task. Thus far, they've changed their style considerably from one album to the next, incorporating a number of disparate musical influences, whilst simultaneously striving throughout to fuse traditional pop rhythms and melodies, alongside more experimental song structures and arrangements!! Understandably then, 'Feels' is - for the lack a better word - a trippy album, one that taps into the ethos of the 60's hippie scene and injects it with a contemporary dose of irony (not that the Collective are winking at the audience in an Apples In Stereo stylee or anything, but rather, the use of instrumentation, especially when coupled with the production and that lovely cover art, seem to strive to evoke the free-form excess and the mind-expanding exploration at the heart of the nu-folk and 60's psychedelic genres). This puts them in the same sphere as the Brian Jonestown Massacre, as well as the other two bands of the aforementioned Elephant 6, The Olivia Tremor Control and the mighty Neutral Milk Hotel.
Further reference points can be found within the scene that the Animal Collective have helped to create, with the band's music showing similarities to other acid-folk luminaries like Devendra Banhart, Sufjan Stevens, Tunng, Vetiver, the Arcade Fire and the too-brilliant-for-words Joanna Newsom. Added to this, we also have the retro-influence of acts like Pink Floyd (particularly the early Sid Barrett stuff), Robert Wyatt, the Incredible String Band, Blonde on Blonde era Dylan, mid period Donovan and that perennial nu-folk luminary Vashti Bunyan (who the Collective collaborated with on their great Prospect Hummer EP from 2004, as well as Bunyan's 2005 come-back album, Lookaftering).
If any (or all?) of those acts float your musical boat (so to speak!), then it's safe to say that 'Feels' is the one for you, with the album getting off to a great start with Did You See the Words, which sounds to me like a schizophrenic take on the Arcade Fire's über-hit single The Power Out, with a clamour of percussion, over-lapping vocals, exotic textures and a floating feeling of psychedelic excess. The rest of the album follows a similar path, with the songs deviating in tempo only (some songs sounding slow and minimal - like Flesh Canoe, with its dreamy underwater feeling of drifting and disorientating animal calls, and Bees, with it's vast silences broken only by the scratchy instrumentation and the layers of droning vocals - whilst other tracks, such as the standout number Grass and the aforementioned opener, have a robust sound made up of layers of diverse and bizarre instrumentation and more pronounced pop rhythms and melodies). That said, the songs rarely stick to one set trajectory, often surging off in strange and intoxicating directions, incorporating all manner of influences, instruments, sound samples, voices, noises, bells and whistles, whilst creating a strange and hypnotic feeling that seems to strive to create the sense of intoxication, under the weight of heavy hallucinogenics!!!
Further reference points on the album lean towards the post rock of bands like Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Dirty Three, Cocteau Twins and, in particular, Sigur Ròs, with the escalating and propulsive structure of songs like Banshee Beat and Loch Raven recalling the escalating rhythms and tempos of their 2005 effort, Takk. There are also elements of that much acclaimed XTC album Skylarking, with Feels possessing a similarly pastoral sound with the emphasis on nature, animals and human behaviour, alongside bizarre production effects, exotic instruments, and overlapping vocals (you could probably draw parallels to the mid-80's Talking Heads sound too... that is, if you really wanted to!!).
Regardless, Feels retains its individuality, and was really the best step to take following the exceptional Sung Tongs. Here, the Collective manage to advance on their sound in a way that opens them up to new ideas and interpretations, yet at the same time, manages to retain the key Animal Collective sound that has been developing nicely though the previous albums Here Comes the Indian and the classic mighty Sung Tongs. Feels is an album that manages to take on board well worm "retro" influences, and blur them with a sound of their own, creating a bright, vibrant, strange and colourful collection of pastoral psychedelic pop songs that more than measure up to the music of their heroes and associates.
I'd previously only heard Here Comes The Indian, a decent set of largely formless, spectral freak-outs. I thought it good, but little more.
This latest album of theirs, however, has quite amazed me. It retains the same ghostly feel of that other album, but marries it to actual songs. With singing, and everything! I realise they've recorded one or two more, between these two, so perhaps I shouldn't be quite so shocked. Regardless, the memorable, melodic depths of Feels are deeply impressive.
The first two tracks sound like Boces-era Mercury Rev covering the Cocteau Twins, recorded live on a malfunctioning machine, the gaps plugged in later, from other sources. Fantastic stuff, then.
As the album progresses, the sound becomes more whispered, less primal. You can't really use typical music-journo. adjectives as 'heavy', 'intense' or 'dense' here. The sound slips and wriggles around so much on this album, even just during one song, that to try and pin it down is pointless.
Standouts for me include the rapturous sound showers of the opening 'Did You See The Words'. Imagine that The Polyphonic Spree are covering The Flaming Lips. It's that good. It's immediately followed by 'Grass', wherein bird song and gentle humming mix with primal shrieks, dramatic drum swells and cymbal crashes, all married to an incredibly memorable melody.
Elsewhere the more ambient tracks are dreamy, soothing, abandoning the more disturbing aspects of previous Animal Collective songs for a more reassuring, comforting sound.
It's the sort of thing that makes me glad I only make music for fun. It'd be utterly depressing to try and compete with this for any more serious a reason.
Animal Collective uses all those sounds (and more) in their seventh album, the freakily beautiful "Feels. Read more
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