Animal Collective - Feels

I think Animal Collective are the making some of the most interesting, challenging and brilliant music around at the moment



A few months ago I urged you to listen to Animal Collective. Reviewing their first two albums (available together for the price of a single CD) I tried to convey just how special this band is. Their new album means that it is past time for urging. It is undoubtedly their best to date and if you are ignorant of their charms buy it now. If there is a better pop album this year – and I use the word pop in its loosest sense of the world – then I'd love to hear it. I really would, because Feels sounds like a band that has managed to merge their completely individual sound world with a set of structured songs. That they've managed to do so without losing any spontaneity is (perhaps paradoxically) testimony to their growing maturity.


Did You See the Words starts with children's voices (I know this is a bit passe  now but we'll ignore this) before guitars flicker into life and piano and rat-a-tat percussion join in. The sound is focussed but not restrained, as it seemed to be on Sung Tongs, their previous album. Once the drums kick in then the song really begins to motor. There are choruses, hooks and harmonies but this is still an Animal Collective song. It is still their sound even if this is as close as they'll get to a 'normal' song. High-pitched wailing vocals, pounding drums and trickling piano all come to centre stage at one point. And if that wasn't enough, the second track, Grass, is actually a three-minute song with a very definite verse – chorus -  verse structure. It is utterly brilliant. Burundi style drumming sits alongside shimmering guitars. And the chorus – the first third is incredibly catchy, like a speeded up sea shanty, whilst the last two thirds is a complete shout fest – a series of screams that keep in time with the melody. Whooping harmonies try to match the screams but they can't. Grass rollicks along at a real clip and is a brilliant pop song, albeit one from a parallel universe.


After the frenetic opening things calm down a bit for Flesh Canoe – it's a song that lurches and rolls along like a ship on a choppy sea. The Purple Bottle ups the ante again. Once again the drumming seems to be African influenced and again the guitars shimmer. The vocals are run through at a fearful rate except for those moments when they give way to sweet high-pitched harmonies. Eventually the song breaks down and keeps threatening to return but it never quite manages to do so, despite all of the encouraging whoops and hollers.


After this the pace ebbs away. Banshee Beat shows off the restrained side of Animal Collective best. It opens slowly and simply with a guitar and a wispy voice. It builds and builds until, a few minutes in, we actually get a chord change. It is brilliantly done – atmospheric and disquieting without really doing very much at all. There are vocal squiggles in the background, and at some point it sounds like someone is impersonating a trombone, but the essential core of the song doesn't change throughout its eight minutes. And it could easily have gone on for longer.


Daffy Duck is another soundscape whilst Loch Raven has an Icelandic beginning (one of Mum plays on the album) – all glimmering and elegiac. The difference is that this song stays at the intro stage – it never builds like a sigur ros number – and instead has to be content with fending off the other song that keeps trying to interrupt it. The final track ups the pace again. The vocals are shouted over a naïve melody that is continually interrupted by shattering squalls of white noise. I think this is meant to be the chorus. Then, half way through, the noise fades away and amidst the remaining sonic clutter voices murmur and sing until the album finally winds down to silence.


I have only written one review for Incendiary that was not positive (and I regret that one). There is so much good music to point people towards that I don't see the point of wasting everyone's time by slagging an album off. (Which is a shame, because it is very easy to do and is a lot of fun). Maybe this makes it difficult to know quite how good any of the albums I review are. Well, I'll make it simple when putting this album in context. I think Animal Collective are the making some of the most interesting, challenging and brilliant music around at the moment, and this is them at the absolute top of their game.


Words: Chris Dawson.