Apparently the members of Animal Collective – Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Conrad Deakin (Josh Dibb) and Geologist (Brian Weitz) – are upset about the following misconceptions: (a) that they “mostly improvise,” and (b) that they make “drug music.” But even if you didn’t know anything about this group, you’d be sure of two things upon first listening to Feels, the group’s third proper full-length: (a) this music, though certainly born out of improvisation, is a serious effort at making distinctive pop music, and (b) this is much more than drug music.
Half of the album is rambunctious and full, driving and manic; the other half charms us with melancholic lullabies fueled by a single sip from the purple bottle. The result: With Feels, Animal Collective has created its first pop masterpiece.
Opener “Did You See the Words” is the first of four trembling opuses. We hope the giggling children we hear on this track are the same children that grace the beautiful cover art. We hope the keys are played by ghosts (as it sounds like they are) and that the strings are tickled by bees. We hope we are really as welcome as the lyrics suggest: “In a house so cozy, words are spoken./ Let’s take our shoes off and unwind.”
“Grass,” the album’s first “single” and second song, grows into a swirling epic with a banshee beat and vocals that are as much Brockian as Bolanian. On this song, the band sums up the sound of all indie-darlings of the last few years, then filters out the temporary charms and cheeky idol worship to deliver the year’s best single.
Of the nine tracks on Feels, four are fractured rock anthems (the first two songs being prime examples) and five are understated but very dense sonic meditations that force us to listen a little harder. One of them, “Bees,” is the only near dud on the record. Its orchestration is lush, but the song is a bit repetitive and a close inspection uncovers its stagnancy. As the fifth track on the album, it serves as a perfect intermission.
The album’s second half is more playful, personal and sparse than the first. It is not as instantly gratifying, but it deserves at least the same amount of attention. One standout here is “Loch Raven,” which is no more exciting than “Bees,” per se, but is much more vulnerable and ultimately courageous. This dirge is followed by the closer “Turn into Something,” which has the rhythmic momentum of a freight train and sounds like a hobo-spiritual. It challenges us with sprawling Americana, shifting directions with the ever-changing scenery, from tunnel to tundra.