oing with the architecture of the old Shakespeare v. simian hypothetical, “No,” no amount of monkeys—notably brilliant monkeys, even—with any conceivable arrangement of drums, well-tuned hearts, and throbbing instincts could make Feels. Because Animal Collective—a name slogged on them by Catsup Plate Records to simplify the riddling roll call of their aliases, lest we forget—has always been both human and humanist, and Feels is no exception. In fact, it’s a confirmation; it’s the adolescence to the bildungsroman they’ve worked on over six albums, shaking off the musky placenta of their celestial beginnings, through the decayed learning-to-crawl reels of Campfire Songs and the egoless tantrums of Here Comes The Indian. After the blissful but obscure sleep-away camp memories of Sung Tongs, the boys came home. Now they play varsity and go to “beer parties,” now they grope, they warp with puppy love and growing pains; you’d call this “maturity.”
A press release can tell you that the album is their most “pop-oriented” and “accessible” yet—that’s true. More importantly, it’s their most disciplined and fully realized effort, and while hard-cores may be disappointed in the tautness of the song structures and the band’s drift away from emotional extremism, it’s hard to deny that it serves as a capitulation of almost everything they've attempted thus far. The flashes of drone, folk, noise, psych, pop, vocal harmonies, and well-defined rhythmic impulses have finally formed a constellation in Feels.
While Animal Collective is nothing if not unique, the skewed-pop coherence and moist atmosphere of Feels does suggest some of their otherworldly bedfellows, like a cartoon-jittery Cocteau Twins re-scoring segments of The Lion King or early Mercury Rev with some ass in the trunk. And while they’ve always oozed New and Weird, Feels also has some of their most “American” moments; “Did You See The Words,” “The Purple Bottle,” and “Turn Into Something” giddy-up with a joyously unapologetic barn-dance swagger that chugs rather than explodes, more bonfire revival meeting than woodland séance.
Feels is an album of mind-rippling serenades, love jamz, and ludicrously giddy pillow talk. Like all reputable and clever seductions, “Grass” starts as pan-amorous admiration, but quickly gets gooey; Tarzan and Jane tongue anxiously over a 500-piece puzzle of kudzu while Avey Tare skanks in the background to a boundless out-take from The Jungle Book, a horribly lost old codger howling at the moon, at least half horny and definitely wondering as to the whereabouts of his goddamn face. Of course, the refrain is where they get on jolly, just vague enough to be tasteful and just dirty enough to be, well, relatively filthy: “You’d be very happy if I touched her there, I was very nervous how I felt in there.”
Of course, the band has worked out their passions before: “Good Lovin’ Outside” from Sung Tongs was probably the most maddeningly erotic song I heard in 2004 (though I could be completely incriminating myself here). The thing is, their previous efforts had a frayed, gurgling vitality, like the trembling of first touch; now, they’ve managed to learn some restraint.
For a band whose climactic moments often used to rely on the dynamics of muscle and frenzy, the notion of “subtlety” seems a little ridiculous, but they pull it off quite nicely when they try. The gorgeous highs of “Banshee Beat” are found its topography, the twinkling mesh of vocals and hums that swell warmly up through the song’s locomotive refractions of beats and guitar. The “ballads”—“Flesh Canoe,” “Bees,” and “Daffy Duck”—are honeydrizzles in a cavern, viscous dream-ropes less concerned with their twitchy coalescence/dissolution/coalescence mode and more with yawning distortions of texture and key, blurring into cul de sacs of bliss only to swirl slowly back into focus.
You want Final Paragraph Honesty? The first time I heard Feels, I laughed. I laughed the second time. I laughed the tenth time. I’m laughing right now. Feels provokes laughter because it overwhelms, generally speaking. I’d be cutting off my toes and trying to sprint if I tried teasing out the emotional resonance of the album without sounding twee, but suffice it to say that it does in fact have something to do with spinning around until you feel the tickle of nausea—positive disorientation via giddy abandon. Feels is a near-stunning album a notable amount of the time; by focusing their instincts, Animal Collective has become freer than the freest folk, twice as wild as apes, and saturated with taste and invention that trump both.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: OCTOBER 17 - OCTOBER 23, 2005