Animal Collective – Feels

Damn if those boys aren’t crazy. Animal Collective has been making music for a while now, but somehow the product is entirely different from that of the Collective’s peers. Instead of a band making dates and times to meet in the studio and record pre-written music, Animal Collective’s music sounds like a bunch of dudes with names like Avey Tare and Panda Bear stumbled upon each other in a forest at random, connected with the solstice or something, and made music with whatever naturally occurring objects happened to be on the forest floor. This is some pretty primal stuff.

The band’s progression is notable; Here Comes the Indian was dissonant (and, I might add, not entirely pleasant), but by the time Sung Tongs rolled around last year, the Collective had hit its stride. The secret was the introduction of pop structures and melodies into the formula. Suddenly the edges were softer and the music much more enjoyable. The songs took on a loose, child-like appeal; Animal Collective’s music has always sounded like the product of a bunch of sugar-high children’s musings, but now it seemed that these children had gotten some musical training.

Feels continues in this evolution and further expands upon it. The Dionysian upper-register yelps and wails of Tare and Bear intertwine in very mysterious ways, ascending and descending at will over the shimmering music below, creating a dreamy campfire environment. As with previous Collective releases, there are two types of songs on Feels: the tight, poppy kind with catchy melodies, and the loose, barely melodic ethereal kind.

As for the first, opener “Did You See the Words” is absolutely transcendent. The vocals leap and bound while the music tries to catch up, recalling a more fully developed take on the album opener of Sung Tongs. “The Purple Bottle” follows suit, featuring a caffeinated vocal melody over insistent tribal drums. Like the best of Animal Collective’s material, it sounds as if about 15 songs were strung one after another, and sometimes on top of each other.

As for the second type of songs, “Bees” is composed of a cool harp-strum and a wandering vocal melody, and “Daffy Duck” is built on layer upon layer of feedback. While both of these songs are certainly enjoyable, as has held true on records past, they pale in comparison with the more melodic numbers.

But Feels introduces a third kind of Animal Collective song – a hybrid of its previous two models. “Loch Raven” is the first such song. It’s a quiet, subdued song in the vein of “Daffy Duck,” but it’s governed by the more cohesive pop structure of Animal Collective’s traditionally more upbeat songs. “Loch Raven” whispers by, propelled gently by an irresistible drumbeat and quietly evanescing and coalescing electronic sounds. The song is absolutely hypnotic – this is the kind of stuff that Homer’s sirens must have sung.

“Banshee Beat” is the second of the new breed of songs. Its structure is looser than that of “Loch Raven,” and its expansive length (eight-plus minutes) resemble the running time of some of the Collective’s more abstract compositions. But after a brief, subdued introduction, the percussion picks up, and a tropical guitar strum descends from above. Suddenly, the song opens up into an expansive chant, capped by a transcendent wail that reappears suddenly throughout. “Banshee Beat” is not only remarkable in its novelty; it is one of the best songs Animal Collective has ever written, and it is the centerpiece of the band’s best album yet.

Feels further confirms that not only does Animal Collective make music different from anything else that’s out there – these folks are also quite good at it. If listening to each Animal Collective release is a little bit like having the Collective guide you through a primal forest, Here Comes the Indian is like venturing deep into the Heart of Darkness, and Sung Tongs let a little bit of light shine through the trees. Listening to Feels, then, is like settling down in a sunny clearing; all the soothing sounds of the forest still reach your ears, but this time, Animal Collective won’t get lost along the way.