Animal Collective have occasionally come together, in groups of two or more, to make abstract electro-folk well before it was fashionable. Their fifth album, Feels, follows hot on the heels of 2004’s Sung Tongs, and is no less abstract despite featuring four “animals” – a 100% increase on their last output.
Occupying a Brooklyn-based arty avant-garde space also occupied by the likes of Black Dice and early Devendra Banhart, the collective just about defy comparison, but do call to mind CocoRosie‘s looser moments.
Feels reunites Avey Tare and Panda with fellow collectivists Geologist and Deakin in the creation of the opposite of singalong music. The record’s amelodic essence can be worked out within the first few bars of Did You See The Words, a curious melange of jaunty tapping and what sounds like an absorbtion of the chorus from Badly Drawn Boy‘s Silent Sigh. Unlike on songs later in the record, lyrics are discernible – it’s the closest they come here to a radio-friendly anthem.
Working best with eyes closed and a fertile imagination, Feels plays like a dreamscape of interconnected happenings, some coincidental, some intended, that’s as dense as it is languid.
Strummed harp, sampled bubbly deep sea noises, hollering half-mad howls, shimmering and shambling piano and guitar webs and largely impenetrable lyrics all point the way to an abstract appreciation of music for music’s sake that, to borrow and twist a phrase, has a certain naive charm but with very little in the way of muscle.
At times hypnotic (the echo-laden Banshee Beat and Daffy Duck), elsewhere difficult (Grass), Feels runs the gamut of emotions, from frustration to bliss and back again. It’s never steeped in traditional songwriting ethics, which makes sure it’ll remain well to the left of the mainstream, but along the way it finds time to feature Múm‘s Kristín Anna Valtysdöttir on piano and Eyvind Kang on violin. The record’s acoustics balance out the electronica (especially the samples) well, creating a hybrid that feels as though it ploughs forth into rarely charted musical territories.
Subtly pushing home the point, album closer Turn Into Something takes the journey somewhere into deepest Africa, with tribal rhythms and pounding drums giving way to psychedelic vocal and piano meanderings. It’s a memorable ending to an album that, if nothing else, symbolises the kind of dream that seems vivid at the time but gets forgotten utterly with the first rays of sunshine. Weird and inventive, the Animal Collective are still happily in charge of the funny farm.