Music Reviews

Animal Collective Feels

(Fat Cat / Splinter Series) Rating - 8/10

Unexpected, although it shouldn't have been. After the single, Grass, it was clear the Animal Collective were not to be pigeonholed as folk heroes, despite the feel of last year's wonderful Sung Tongs or their work with Vashti Bunyan on the Project Hummer EP. But I wasn't quite expecting this, this wild, unpredictably, romping act of civil disobedience that is Feels.

But first some background. Feels marks a change from their last sortie, with additional members of the Collective, including Geologist and Deakin, joining Avey Tare and Panda, authors of Sung. There are other helpers on hand - production by Scott Colbourne, violin from Eyvind Kang, and piano throughout by Kristín Anna Valtysdóttir. There are also - and I was surprised by this - tonnes of electric guitar noise, as if My Bloody Valentine were pissing about somewhere in the background and the sheer loudness has penetrated the studio walls.

Indeed there are surprises throughout. The tempo is much quicker than usual, as songs are delivered with hyperactive urgency, thanks mainly to some apoplectic percussion. Arrangements are wilfully aimed to wrongfoot listeners, stops and starts, sudden key changes, the whoops and wails of Avey Tare's voice, which now seems able to operate in any octave you fancy, from Why?-esque whines to a profound murmur. There are choral accompaniments, as in the swirling dulcimer mirage of Bees, and massive, electrified stomps, including the two openers, the riotous Did You See the Words and the headspinning single, Grass. Banshee Beat is an astonishing slow-burner that explodes into a controlled yet uncontrollable escapade halfway through, like a pack of huskies on an elastic lead.

The great achievement of Feels is that it throws everything at every track yet never loses sight of the tunes themselves. Some artists polish, other strip; here Animal Collective have layered and loaded without overburdening. It doesn't always come off - Daffy Duck appears to drown - but generally it does, and brilliantly, as on Turn Into Something, one of the best closing tracks I've heard in quite a while. A band at the limits of what can be done, unafraid, daring and inventive.