With every release, you would think it would become easier and easier to describe the sound of Animal Collective. As time passes, words and phrases enter the lexicon to better describe the `out-of-the-ordinary’ and styles become more familiar to the ear. Turns out that it has become even harder. After the campfire freak-out and back to nature feel of Sung Tongs and the meditative experiments with folk singer Vashti Bunyan on Prospect Hummer, the Collective have welcomed Geologist and Deaken back into the fold, recorded in Seattle, and created an innovative hybrid of folk, experimental noise, primal screams, and cutting edge pop.
Feels sounds like what would happen if Neutral Milk Hotel, Sigur Rós and the Fiery Furnaces all got together and had a peyote fun fest at Joshua Tree. But whereas Sung Tongs was much more of an `in touch with nature’ exploratory experiment, Feels, from song one, is much more of a rock record. Drums and guitar are more present in this release than most of its predecessors. The vocal overlaps, howls, screams, bird noises, and production tweaks are still there, but everything seems to have progressed towards common ground with some of today’s most innovative indie rock bands. Does this mean that Animal Collective is compromising? Hell no! Take the second song “Grass.” Starting with echoing harp and percussive sounds and then adding in a throbbing drumbeat, vocals come in with intelligible lyrics, before things progress into a screaming tribal chorus. It’s as if the Arcade Fire got lost in the Canadian woods and began to go feral. In other words, while the Collective may be incorporating more of a rock feel, it is melded together in a way that is purely their own.
Vocalist Avey Tare sounds like Jeff Mangum at times, specifically on opener, “Did You See the Words?” The up and down rollercoaster of pitch and tune can be annoying to some, but endearing to most. The near shouted choruses toward the end of the song as the drums beat on show an openness to vulnerability that few can exhibit so well. “Purple Bottle,” another drum heavy track is fast paced and frenetic, like someone left a doo-wop song from the ’50s on 78 speed rather than 45. In this way, the song closely resembles some from Devendra Banhart’s latest, Cripple Crow. That is until about five minutes in when the band sings high pitched roller coaster woos. The opening of fifth track, “Bees,” is the first portion to resemble something off of Sung Tongs. Avey Tare’s zen-like meditative vocals over harp open the song until the repetition of the title as the vocals are processed down to a slow, deep, warbled nightmare sound. (Plus, it almost sounds as if he’s saying ‘the beast’ rather than ‘the bees,’ increasing the creepifying factor)
Starting with “Bees” the latter half of Feels is a much slower affair, contrasting with the busier first four songs. “Daffy Duck” continues in much the same way, with ambient noise, soothing vocals, and odd chirps, until the recognizable sound of a guitar is heard, and for a brief time resembles a wall of sound similar to something Kevin Shields would create. The xylophone-like sounds of “Loch Raven,” along with chimes and whispered words create another atmosphere for the album altogether. Closer “Turn Into Something” wraps things up by bringing the album full circle with a faster pace and the traditional rock instruments combining with AC’s `normal’ wacky goodness, making for one of the best tracks on the record.
For some odd reason, a different Disneyland ride has come to mind to match every song on Feels. For instance, the introductory bayou boat ride of “Pirates of the Caribbean” came to mind when listening to “Daffy Duck,” “Bees” became “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” and “Loch Raven” resembled “Peter Pan’s Flight.” Weird. It’s all very well and good for me to attempt to describe specific songs, but ultimately it’s not about what makes up the specific songs, it’s about, wait for it, how each song `feels.’ That’s what Animal Collective is ultimately all about. Traditional rock songs can sometimes seem devoid of emotion, whereas Animal Collective’s songs are drenched in atmosphere. That’s why I brought up the bizarre Disneyland reference as that’s how some of the songs `felt’ to me, and thus the title is born. I, however, cannot explain the Dick and Jane meets Henry Darger cover with bleeding eyes and mouths. Of course, maybe that’s how the songs `feel’ to them.