I’m pretty sure it’s autumn. The leaves on the trees are brown and falling, my nose is turning a little runny. Summer now exists only as a vague memory, a time when all was warm and I bathed in lakes and pools and kissed and danced (possibly). I want every season to be like summer; for that sense of freedom and rejuvenation to permeate even when the rain’s falling hard in Manchester and the red-brick blocks frown and shudder.
“You must make sure you’re happy when you leave your summer places”
Luckily for me Animal Collective have a new record. If you’re not familiar with the (now New York-based) four piece (comprising the wackily-named Avey Tare, _Geologist, Panda Bear and Deacon), their music sits somewhere between a kaleidoscopic, diluted Beach Boys, and a folksier, surrealist psych version of My Bloody Valentine. Much of their previous work was either bouncy, drum filled, squawky pop-mania, or simple protracted acoustic meanderings; last album Sung Tongs reflected this balance between crazed pop sensibilities, low-key ballads and the downright weird, resulting in a beautiful if slightly flawed record. Since then, the group seem to have moved towards embracing the less hyperactive side to their music, most notably in their recent Prospect Hummer EP, a low-key collaboration with until-recently-reclusive 70s folk artist Vashti Bunyan; on Feels this slightly more focused, reflective sound dominates again, if in a rather more upbeat form.
Opener Did You See The Words builds up slowly, with whispered murmurs and tinkling pianos (courtesy of Múm’s **Kristin Anna Valtysdottir) eventually bursting into life in a cascade of rising and falling voices, ending with a chorus bursting to the brim with “oh-oh’s” and “do-do’s”; although the tone of Feels differs to Sung Tongs, the structure is reasonably similar, both records beginning with pop bombast only to drift into something more introverted (although no less profound) as the album goes on. Grass_ is even more gloriously bemusing; in three minutes the band squeeze in deranged screaming, echoing melodies and pounding drums, yet you somehow come away convinced that you’ve just heard one of the best pop songs of the year. At moments like these singer Avey Tare’s distant, melancholic vocals and the group’s ear for a catchy folk melody bring to mind The Arcade Fire at their least Bowie-aping; nevertheless, it’s the group’s ability to steer clear of any obvious genre or typical ‘band’ expectation that makes them special; they insist that, despite the collaboration with Bunyan, they remain separate from the folk-crowd that can be seen on proud display on the cover of Devendra Banhart’s Cripple Crow.
Flesh Canoe feels like a song in slow motion, layers of sound built around lovingly purred vocals, while The Purple Bottle manages to sound both deeply tribal, silly and somehow terribly meaningful all at once, Avey Tare muttering smuttily, beautifully: “sometimes you hear me when others they can’t hear me/sometimes I’m naked and, thank god, sometimes you’re naked…can I call you just to hear you, would you care?”. In the spaces between the gurgling water noises, muttering, whooping and humming there are moments of truly sublime tenderness on Feels, the eccentricity of the supporting cast only serving to increase the warmth of the words.
Banshee Beat is the album’s climax; a track that blossoms and blooms over eight minutes of reflective chanting, singing and pianos, the song bursting into life with a chorus where Tare tries to “find the swimming pool”, eventually concluding that “either way you look at it you have your fits, I have my fits, but feeling is good”. It’s the best song the band have written to date, perfectly balancing the experimental and the conventional sides of their musical canon, resulting in an eight minute ballad that always leaves me shocked that such a relatively long period of time could pass me by so quickly. Turn Into Something is the giddy finale that Sung Tongs craved; when the walls of sound kick in, when the group start the ecstatic chanting and humming, I’m glad I own this record, that Animal Collective have made the album I hoped they’d make, and even that it’s autumn and summer’s over.
9Sam Lewis's Score