American experimentalists return with dreamy soundscapes, hypnotic rhythms and odd time shifts
Now in their third decade of recording together, Animal Collective have always seemed to possess a somewhat restless spirit – be that in the jittery energy that characterises many of their songs, or simply an apparently inexhaustive quest for new ideas to cram into their many songs.
So, it turns out that that the sessions which produced last year’s Time Skiffs were so fruitful that enough tracks were produced for another, companion, record. These songs were held back though so that the producer of their choice – Russell Elvado – was available. Elvado is best known for working with D’Angelo, The Roots and Kamasi Washington, but this is, by no means, Animal Collective exploring their soulful, jazzy side.
In fact, Isn’t It Now contains all the experimental elements that we’ve come to expect from Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Geologist and Deakin by now. There’s dreamy soundscapes, hypnotic, repetitive rhythms, odd time shifts in the middle of songs, and at one point, a song that lasts a whole 20 minutes.
That particular track, Defeat, is the centrepiece of Isn’t It Now – it’s an extraordinary journey, in the very best sense of the word. It’s a contemplative, introspective drone of a song, that at some points, sounds like Wayne Coyne fronting Spiritualized. It’s easy to see the influence of Peter Kember aka Sonic Boom, who’s recently been collaborating with Panda Bear. It’s a track that takes its sweet time to unfold – the drums don’t kick in until after eight minutes, but when they do it ushers in the song’s euphoric middle section, before slowly bringing the mood down again towards the end. A song to stop everything and just become lost in the world.
Not all the tracks on Isn’t It Now are that unwieldy – Broke Zodiac and All The Clubs Are Broken are positively brief at just over two minutes each, but they share that woozy, disorientating quality that presides over much of this album. Yet there seems a bit more substance to the record when they take their time – the knowingly titled Magicians From Baltimore is touching 10 minutes long, and doesn’t seem to waste a second, even if you’re not entirely sure what it’s all about. It’s never anything less than compelling though.
The second half of the album even hints at even more changes of direction – Stride Rite begins as a pretty straightforward piano ballad, which is oddly reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright at times, and then drifts off to become a blissful, summery track, while Gem & I dives into Flaming Lips-esque psychedelic rock, while also boasting one of their most naggingly catchy melodies since My Girls.
It’s all brought to a conclusion by Kings Walk, full of wordless vocalisations and droney synths, an unusual calm way to end an album that is, as ever, fit to bursting with ideas. Isn’t It Now may well be a typical Animal Collective album, but it’s full of creativity and invention that not many bands could pull off after 25 years of recording together.