By: Todd Goldstein
Routine influence-spotting fails with Animal Collective. Really, no band has ever sounded quite like this pop oddity. Lead fellows Avery Tare and Panda Bear drape moirï¿½ patterns of acoustic and electric guitars over tribal percussion, and interlace their otherworldly, a-melodic sighs with a watery embrace. And then, just when things seem most chaotic, the maelstrom snaps into focus, revealing a skewed sense of pop melody that’s both familiar and alien, catchy and unsettling, something akin to make-out records for deranged forest-children. Now they’ve made Feels, their tightest, most cohesive, and most “radio-friendly” album to date. That’s right. Animal Collective: Radio-friendly.
This isn’t to say that Animal Collective has gone “pop” in the antiquated sellout-conscious sense: Feels is as creatively mystifying as anything the Collective’s ever made, though its accessibility isn’t without precedent. Sung Tongs’ sublime acoustic miasma had a lone exception in “Who Can Win a Rabbit,” one of 2004’s most endearingly freaky singles, all caffeinated, truncated melody and end-over-end pop hooks. Feels sees Avey and Panda picking up where “Rabbit” left off, harnessing their often overlooked capacity for songcraft while maintaining attention to bizarro textures and details that made their past work so engrossing.
Words like “anthemic” aren’t often leveled at Animal Collective, but how else to describe the album-opening “Did You See the Words?” The track careens through an exuberant series of sing-along choruses, Avey Tare’s voice a declarative yelp instead of the usual knowing whisper. Four-on-the-floor drums pound a military beat, and the whole hazy mess ends in a Queen-like vocal coda. Elsewhere, on “The Purple Bottle,” the group’s dazzling facility with hooks is stretched to its limit as each new, ultra-catchy (and rather melancholy) melodic section whizzes by at speeds that nearly prevent complete absorption.
Feels maintains ties with Animal Collective’s old sound while pushing toward new, unexplored territory. And as with the best “risky, big departure” albums, old fans need not fear: All the crucial Animal Collective elements are present, and as freaky as ever — they’re just better organized.
Animal Collective is best experienced live, and after this autumn takes them on an extensive European tour, they’ll return to the States for these dates:
11/21, New York, NY (Webster Hall) 11/21, San Francisco, CA (Great American Music Hall) 11/22, Los Angeles, CA (El Rey Theatre)