Animal Collective Feels

[Paw Tracks/FatCat; 2005]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: experimental folk, psychedelic rock, abstract rock
Others: Campfire Songs, Avey Tare & Panda Bear, Comets on Fire

There's a trend among most cult-classic, hipster-canonized albums: a distanced narrator. Sure we can relate to the Candys and the Stephanies, but can we relate to uptown Hipster poet Lou Reed? It is he who is on a pedestal preaching down to the masses. Same thing with suave transvestite from the future Bowie, rich outlaw co-opting Americana Jagger, and exploding plastic Stooge/Pop. The personae they create often loom over the characters they convey in their songs, and they fail to connect on a human level.

On Feels, Animal Collective speak of human experiences from the point of view of... average human beings. Eons away from the beautiful sound collage/barrage tunes of Here Comes the Indian, the songs on Feels are bare and direct. Each instrumentation evokes an emotion as well as a rhythm, and each vocal pattern reciprocates. There is a sense of unification within the album that finds Deacon, Panda Bear, Geologist, and Avey Tare functioning as an indecipherable whole. The guitar drones, tribal drum beats, and assorted Geological electronic complements are given equal speaker time as the vocals, accentuating the lyrics.

Lyrically, Tare, Bear, and co. present themes of jubilance, love, and melancholy that appeal to the very soul of the listener. Feels retains the wide-eyed child innocence of prior albums while radiating an air of adult reflection. Songs like "Flesh Canoe" and "Daffy Duck" abstractly etch love-y feelings and let the listener piece together the stream of consciousness, effectively creating a sense of ecstasy upon processing within the listener.

Album opener "Did You See the Words?" is a bouncy number with an up-tempo latter-day Talking Heads disposition. Tare conveys the emotions he felt from reading a letter to a clinky guitar line. Each time his vocals heighten to make a point, the instruments give way. Later, "Flesh Canoe," the lone wholly avant-garde statement on the album, features a vocal melody that goes against the grain of the instrumental melody, but which is nevertheless supported by splashes of piano. Falsetto choral hits underline the melody, which is further pushed downstream by windmill guitar and waterfall electronics. The lyrics present the simple joys of exploring each other's bodies in a love affair. Tare sings, "I'm just wondering what to do/ with yourself and me/ naked in the mirror/ of the bathroom."

"Bees" is a soft meditation on taking time for personal reflection and, well, bees. The song is furthered by what sounds like a harp (possibly a processed guitar) and the group's post-Beach Boys harmony. A descending piano line and subtle, chirping electronics highlight the disjointed Eastern-influenced drift-along. Both "Grass" and "Purple Bottle" are prance-along magic numbers that glisten in the sunshine of the unified band. The band's creative use of guitar effects and of the drumbeat as an integral part of the song work with unconventional beauty and love metaphors to solidify the festive mood.

Elsewhere, "Daffy Duck" and "Loch Raven" are both down-tempo numbers that work to effectively balance the otherwise giddy, adrift feeling of the record. "Loch Raven" is airborne with a sense of spiritual enlightenment through melodic chant and glistening chime techno unity. "Daffy Duck" features a fractured melody centered around a repetitive guitar line that peaks when the singer's voice reaches a sense of utmost urgency. The mood created lyrically seems like the singer is trying to get to the heart of a forlorn lover, wishing he had "volcano boots." He concludes, "What you need's a/ happy farm/ with happy goats/ and sheep."

Possibly the most profound statement on the album is "Banshee Beat," an acknowledgement of feelings of depression and helplessness that evolves into a realization that there is always an exit to ecstasy. During his opening revelations, Tare sings, "There'll be times/ to just cry/ and wonder why/ it didn't work out." After his admissions, a soft drumbeat begins to build and is followed by a rollicking guitar. Eventually Tare figures out that he just needs to "find the swimming pool," and the song is dosed with confetti-fall elation. The joyful mood prevails towards the end of the song and explodes in an outburst of ecstatic animal noises.

Feels is a psychedelic wonderland filled with life-affirming warmth. By taking away the extraneous baggage, the band takes another step in their evolution and a step further into the heart and subconscious of willing listeners around the globe.

1. Did You See the Words
2. Grass
3. Flesh Canoe
4. Purple Bottle
5. Bees
6. Banshee Beat
7. Daffy Duck
8. Loch Raven
9. Turn Into Something