The Baltimore band is curbing songwriting without compromising on experiments on their latest album.
Animal Collective’s latest album, “Time Skiffs,” is a joyous mix of exploratory impulses and outwardly psychedelic pop music. Their strongest album in recent years is their first release, featuring all four members of the band since 2016. Unlike their recent work – from documentary soundtracks to live improvisations on specific sites and giving mixed results – this is a more consistent record.
“Time Skiffs” flashes more than 45 minutes of the most melodic and traditionally structured tracks of Animal Collective since “Merriweather Post Pavilion” in 2009. However, this is far from a step back for a band that is constantly inventing its sound. Some of the insights may perceive this record as a return to form, but it’s definitely not a departure from experimentation and an impetus to play with the new sound palette.
It’s hard to pick favorites when each track is just as strong. The opening of the duo “Dragon Slayer” and “Car Keys” is a statement of purpose under the influence of dubbing, which establishes playful lyricism and cheerful maximalism, which make this album so interesting to listen to. “Prester John” – which became the album’s first single in October – is obsolete to perfection. It’s easily one of the most common songs ever released by Animal Collective. In my opinion, this is also one of the best. Turning their unusual sound landscape into such a pop form yields irresistible results – this track still feels fresh every time I hear it.
And yet, “Prester John” is followed by an even better song: “Strung with Everything” is a stormy seven-minute psychedelic opus, closest to the classic sound of the band after the album “Strawberry Jam” in 2007. ”I didn’t realize how much I missed the crackling, almost screaming vocals of Avi Tara until I heard them here. Saying, “Let’s say tonight, just you and me / And let’s see the sky fall apart,” Tara’s voice is mixed with a piercing Brian Wilson-style piano and with a love of careless harmony. Panda Bear’s live drums on this – and on almost every track – sound free and unproductive, like nothing I haven’t heard from the band.
“Strung with Everything” is all I want from the song Animal Collective, and every time it impresses me. It’s a comeback that is sure to bring back faith in the band’s songwriting to everyone who has been disconnected by their recent work, but it’s also the perfect encapsulation of this record as a whole. The song pushes the most favorite elements of the band’s sound in the current new direction, making it an instant personal favorite.
The beautiful final track “Royal and Desire” sounds almost unrecognizable to the band. His jazz, catchy, folk sound is closer to Robin Pecknold’s recent work with Fleet Foxes than anything Animal Collective has ever done before. The song completes the record with a stunning solo on saxophone. Animal Collective seems to be trying to make it clear that even though their songwriting is as strong as ever, they are still moving their sound in unexpected directions.
When I first heard the new Animal Collective material in 2019, it was at one of their concerts, and the music was still early. In the three years that have passed, the band has reworked songs from a twisted, bass, jazz atmosphere to a catchy and lyrical pop-sound landscape. Returning to their Merriweather-era tactics to develop new live tracks gave the material a sense of indifference that was sorely lacking in the confusing 2016 album Painting With.
These songs could bring the band back to the festival headliners, as it was after the release of the crossover hit “Merriweather Post Pavilion”. The balance they maintain between auditory frenzy and psychedelic pop music on this record is staggeringly successful. Fans mourning their experimental releases will enjoy the return of their eclectic and hilarious sides. New listeners can find “Time Skiffs” a great entry into the band’s scary and unpredictable catalog.
In “Time Skiffs” everyone will find something for themselves. This is a summary of the huge work of the band and a promising indication of their new direction. For me, it’s an encouraging reminder of the exciting and unpredictable energy that Animal Collective can evoke at the peak of its power.
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