Using song titles like “Daffy Duck” and cover art that features kids in a farmyard, Animal Collective are still working with children and animals. But the New York group’s vision isn’t a rose-tinted regression to a lost idyll. It’s more like their music is a child — angelic one moment, monstrous the next. Dulcet passages give way to tantrums of flailing drums and shrieks.
Kids see the world as a magical place populated with spooks as much as marvels. And on Feels, their seventh album, Animal Collective give that sinister side a subliminal undertow. Although the lyrics suggest it’s a love song, “Flesh Canoe” is actually a weirdly creepy thing — a grumbling mass of guitar drones that seems to shed lumps of itself along the way. “Bees,” with its hammered autoharp and piano trickles, sounds halcyon, but the lyrics could be a recovered memory of infant terror: “So sudden, the bees, they came flying / So violent, the bees, they came sly.”
At the core of Animal Collective’s music is the dragonfly wing-shimmer of frenetically strummed acoustic guitars, a peculiar mix of dynamism and delicacy. As ferocious as the playing can get, there’s no center to the sound, just an unmoored drift of song structures that rarely follows verse-chorus patterns. AC are all about the sometimes blissful, often uncanny intermingling of song and space. Tunes take shape gradually, like a figure approaching through mist, then dissolve into eerie incantations. The contrast between the winsome vocals of Avey Tare and the music’s vastness creates a sound picture of an ego engulfed by immensity.
Feels really enchants when space gets the upper hand over song. The tremulous tinglings of acoustic texture on “Daffy Duck,” “Loch Raven,” and “Banshee Beat” recall Brian Eno’s ambient albums far more than the freak-folk outfits AC usually get placed next to. The closer, “Turn Into Something,” starts as a jaunty ditty, then crumbles into a slow fade of reverberations, as if Animal Collective are blending into the scenery. Mother Nature’s sons in the grand psychedelic tradition of Syd Barrett and the Incredible String Band, they finally surrender to the void.
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