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FAT CAT 2005

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I am overcome by pangs of guilt as I find myself writing about yet another band this hyped. The ballyhoo, brouhaha, and overall razzmatazz over the Animal Collective in the week or so since its Feels hit the streets has already surpassed the clamor over last year’s Sung Tongs. If you’re an old pessimist like me and never trust any new product that the indie culture industry goes nuts over, or if you are one of those who was quick to dismiss the Animal Collective as gimmicky post-folky puffery or amorphous psycho-dribble, you may just wanna give ‘em one more shot- because you may find yourself missing out on the perfect autumn album.

First and foremost, the Animal Collective has substantially altered their approach on Feels. They have gone completely amplified and rock out pretty hard on a few numbers (Judas!). While much of Sung Tongs was driven by strumming acoustic guitars, here the electric guitars doing a lot of single-string work. Instead of bongos there’s a full drum kit. So maybe they will lose the freak-folk tag for good? Then there’s the matter of sound. While Sung Tongs sounded good, Feels is a huge audiophile album. The production (by Sun City Girls’ producer Scott Colburn) is the biggest, warmest, and fullest of any Animal Collective outing to date. A bit denser, the layers are better integrated and more harmonically sophisticated. Finally, Avey Tare has shown significant improvement - completely coming into his own as a vocalist.

Feels however is not a complete departure from the Animal Collective tradition. It is sort of return to the electric parts of Spirit They're Gone Spirit They've Vanished - only the noise here is much more contained and the compositions more realized. Eclectic dynamic, and ambient, while also infectious, melodic, and emotional, they continue to cover a vast expanse of musical territory. The band remains abstract without being too pretentious. They are still playful, self-mocking, and downright goofy while their music loses none of its emotional power, taste, or art. And, in case you were wondering, yes, here you can still find no shortage of weird Beach Boys-style harmonies.

Feels opens with the quirky pocket symphony “Did You See the Words.” As the one-chord Velvet Underground “Jesus"-style riff starts to roll, it expands as sheets of sound accumulate around its surface – finally finding winding up driven by the drums. The Wilsonian (Brian not Woodrow) vocal harmonies and piano arpeggios continue to build into giant crescendos until all the song can do is lose the drums and unfurl itself into loose sonic ribbons. “Grass,” “The Purple Bottle,” and “Turned Into” are also excellent drum-driven pop tracks that wouldn’t be too out of place on Smile.

While the pop songs are sublime in their own right, the slower more ambient numbers are also nothing to sneeze at. “Flesh Canoe” is tension-builder in the style of The Pretty Things’ “Death” but heavier and densely layered with vocals. Choral vocal harmonies hover over the slow crushing sonic boom that serves as a beat of sorts. The gorgeous “Bees” is a loose and free pastoral gem centered around the crude strumming of an auto-harp. “Daffy Duck” contains the warm tingle of delayed-guitars and pianos against dense sounds. “Loch Raven” is a sparse shimmering gem with wordless vocal harmonies.

My personal favorite, “Banshee Beat,” is pulled together by a found sound that resembles damp footsteps on patches of autumn leaves. While the delayed minimalist guitar and whispered vocals at first come off with thee elegant dreaminess of something from Spaceman 3’s Playing With Fire, the sound and the way it is manipulated make me think of Eno’s On Land. Halfway through the song the staccato rimshot drumming flips the rhythm on its head and before you know it the vocals take off to uncharted territory. Tare’s phrases begin to soar to new octaves and the phrasing varies and finally hits a call and response before the song slowly winds down. Clocking in at over eight minutes, the well-rounded epic is not a minute too long.

I have not one complaint about this record. As the songs flow effortlessly from one to another, the grab bag works really well as a whole. There are so many elements to discover in Feels that it only gets better with each listening – particularly with headphones.

With this Feels, the Animal Collective, who were already interesting and pretty good, appear to have become about the best thing going. Now that they have upped the ante for themselves and everyone else, I can’t wait to see where everything goes from here.





© New York Night Train , 2005