Animal Collective is an experimental/psychedelic pop group from Baltimore, Maryland, comprised of childhood friends David “Avey Tare” Portner, Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox, Brian “Geologist” Weitz, and Joshua “Deakin” Dibbs. The group’s discography is characterized by a diverse output, ranging from the juxtaposed harsh noises and whimsical vocals of Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished (2000), to the lush psychedelic folk compositions of Sung Tongs (2004), to the more electronically-based pop of Strawberry Jam (2007) and Merriweather Post Pavillion (2009). Within this timeline, Feels falls somewhere between the folk and pop eras of Animal Collective, wedding the band’s propensity for unorthodox, multilayered vocal and acoustic harmonies with electronic instrumentation.
Similar to Sung Tongs and opener “Leaf House”, the tracklist of Feels begins with a more conventional pop song in “Did You See the Words,” a joyfully infectious track that features an undulating, Beach Boys-esque vocal melody with a full-bodied, reverberated guitar rhythm. The energy of the album often approximates a cyclical pattern, with the upbeat “Grass,” a textured, amorphous song punctuated by choruses of emphatic screams, followed by the more meditative “Flesh Canoe.” This motif is repeated in the sequencing of “The Purple Bottle” and “Bees,” a droning lullaby consisting of soft vocals accompanied by nothing more than the sparse strumming of an autoharp and occasional piano riff.
“Banshee Beat” is an eight minute track that is arguably the most beautiful composition that Animal Collective has ever conceived. For the first couple of minutes, a single open chord is repeatedly strummed over apprehensive, hushed vocals, building up a pulsating tension that is finally relieved at the 2:25 minute mark when the chord satisfyingly resolves. The song then spirals into a cathartic whirlpool that invokes feelings of warm contentment and nostalgia. Avey Tare’s vocal performance throughout is nuanced and dynamic, ranging from whispers, to high-pitched, staccato yelps, to full-on howls, each element contributing to the overall atmosphere of the piece. The lesson here is almost zen-like, encouraging the listener to slough off one’s troubles and negativities as readily as a child might forget about a summer romance: “But I don’t wish that I was dead/ Now a very old friend of mine once said/ That either way you look at it/ You have your fits, I have my fits, but feeling is good.”
“Loch Raven,” named after the serene Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore county, is tranquility in its purest sonic form. Once again, close attention is warranted for the myriad of chimes, echoes, yelps, whispers, whimpers, and tappings that make up the exquisite soundscape of “Loch Raven.”
Feels is an album that only gets better with repeated listens. Unwinding in the park on a sunny spring day while being immersed in the exuberant sounds and harmonies of Feels is a singularly unique experience.
Animal Collective – Did You See the Words
Animal Collective – Banshee Beat