If you want to feel old, consider the fact that Animal Collective are approaching their third decade together as a band. They have managed this achievement through an open door policy, allowing for solo and collaborative projects, and rarely rushing their album releases through. As a result, Time Skiffs – their first album as a quartet since 2016 – gives the strongest possible sense of homecoming.
Its music breathes a heady air, but rather than pausing for reflection Time Skiffs feels like a joyous carnival of different colours and styles. Its bright textures shimmer in the sunlight, with rich harmonies and psychedelic effects all thrown at the same musical canvas, like a vivid piece of Jackson Pollock.
Much of what their fans love is here – the celebratory vocals, unexpected pinpoints of reflection, hooks that turn out to be much more catchy than expected, and syncopated rhythms that twist the listener round in circles. All this, and yet it sounds primal and carefree, leaning more towards 2007’s Strawberry Jam than 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.
That means a thumbs-up for experimentation, without an exact re-treading of steps the band has already taken. One of their most inspired moments is on Prester John, where two demos, one each from Panda Bear and Avey Tare, are merged into a rich musical tapestry. The loose rhythms could have been couriered via Mali, while the close harmonies suggests the warmth of The Byrds, before the track turns up another road altogether for some flowery improvisation.
There are poppy moments on Time Skiffs, too. We Go Back is the catchiest track, with a pumped-up chorus that collapses in on itself for the last minute of the song. Walker is a tender tribute to the much-missed Scott Walker, another successful blend of intimacy and celebration that ends suffused in marimbas.
Meanwhile two longer tracks hold the key to the album’s heart. Strung With Everything is a meditation with suggestive wind chimes and airborne guitar, ultimately blossoming into a celebration. Cherokee is the centrepiece, a warmth emanating from its heart and softly pulsing rhythms. It is one of those Animal Collective tracks that feels like a collage of styles but is difficult to pin down.
Throughout the band sound carefree and hopeful, delivering exactly the sort of music you want to hear in the depths of winter. The closing Royal and Desire caps those sentiments, a musical representation of sunshine shimmering on a watery surface, with healthy dashes of displaced echo for the headphone listener.
Time Skiffs is a vibrant album, suggesting Animal Collective have well and truly rekindled their collective fire – and because of that, the pleasure is all ours. Gather round and enjoy its heartening warmth.