Last year’s Sung Tongs was a fantastic ring-around-the-rosy romp for Animal Collective – four grown men regressing into their pre-pubescent selves to mimic their favorite animals and strum the day away. Feels, their latest effort, expands their whimsical bursts into an atmospheric form that stretches across the album’s track list. Although some of the unbridled joy of their previous album remains, the giggling gaggle have transported themselves from the sandbox to an enchanted forest, replete with tree-spirits and sparkling soundscapes.
The opening track, “Did You See the Words,” begins with a recording of playground giggling that recalls the band’s prior work. But similarities fade as the song matures into a lyrical story with a galloping beat that reappears in various forms over the album’s nine tracks. As the drums become more frenzied, the lilting vocals melt into Canadian-accented warbling, which carries the song to its conclusion. “Grass” is Animal Collective’s entry into bubblegum pop, albeit bubblegum of the Willy Wonka variety. Awash in twinkling electronic sounds and tinkling piano keys, “Grass” is simply a joy to listen to.
After two tracks, fans familiar with the band’s catalogue will recognize the ambition of Feels. Transitions within songs have become much less fluid, more purposeful and structured. The drumming, too, has been tightened up and tempered a bit to serve as the backbone for several songs. While Animal Collective has always employed their vocals as an instrument, on Feels they’ve added another dimension to their approach: lyrics crafted with narrative thrust.
After the most lyrical tracks on the album, the band intersperses a quartet of songs that seem too content to echo into oblivion. Although the songs are well arranged, tracks like “Daffy Duck” and “Bees” are too long and feel static among their flowing, pastoral sound. “Loch Raven” and “Flesh Canoe,” the two other contemplative tracks, do more than just muck about between pattering strings. Both songs conjure up emotive imagery more organic and absorbing than the sine waves underscoring boring electronica.
Animal Collective is conscious of the somniferous affect of their slower tempo tracks, so no two succeed each other. Sandwiched between two slower songs is the kinetic stand-out, “The Purple Bottle.” Frolicsome guitar and drum rhythms mingle with the infectious clickety-clack of wooden sticks, together meshing into a winsome melody. The lyrics explore a budding relationship and childish frustrations that are smile inducing. While I wanted Animal Collective to stay within their sandbox and shape outre-pop gems for my pleasure, it is much more refreshing to see a band refining and tweaking their style.
Archived article by Andi Meehan