Although I didn't love the Animal Collective the first time that I heard them, they were one of those groups that burrowed their way into my very consciousness with their sort of primal, almost tribal folk musings. It didn't matter that their vocals were nonsensical and/or indecipherable, or that they would occasionally lapse into extended trips that are probably meant to be enjoyed (more) with mind-altering substances, they seemed to capture many of those intangibles that make me love music outright. As time has progressed, the group has seemingly gotten better with each release, and their Sung Tongs release was my favorite album of last year.
Needless to say, I was ready to approach Feels with a bit of trepidation, as I do with any release by a group that follows something that I consider downright essential. In my many years of listening to music, I've been let down far too many times after expecting follow-up releases to always best their great predecessor. Whereas Sung Tongs was mainly the work of two musicians, Feels finds Animal Collective joined by more of their regular members and the resulting sound is more expansive as well.
In fact, Feels is easily the most melodic and dense work from the group yet. If their previous album was the result of the group taking acoustic instrumentation to odd realms, then this newest effort finds them doing that and then some, bring in electric guitars, a great use of piano, more effects, and of course a whole slew of vocal melodies. One could argue that it's the most melodic work from the group yet, and it gets going from the start with "Did You See The Words." Starting quietly, the track layers some tinkling piano melodies and strummy reverbed guitar chords before the vocals burst forth and a rhythm sets the track in motion. As the track progresses, it continues to build steam, with percussion getting louder, vocal melodies and harmonies getting more complex, and full-on washes of sound layering on top of one another. "Grass" follows, and it's even more triumphant as shimmering electronics blend with pounding drums and shimmery guitars while the vocals start out almost Beach Boys style before rupturing into yelling, explosive sections that turn the track into a cathartic freakout that you can't help but want to scream along with.
From there, the group takes things down a notch with the spacey "Flesh Canoe" before launching into "The Purple Bottle," which is easily a contender for my favorite song of the entire year. Bursting out of the gate with raucous drums, hilarious sing-along vocals (that seem to perfectly capture the giddy and weird beginnings of a relationship) and hazy guitar jangling, the track morphs several times during its almost seven minute running length and never seems to run out of ideas or get saggy in the slightest bit. By the time the group reaches the closing section (which blends dense washes of gorgeous melodies with sharp punctuated bursts) and finally winds down, you feel like skipping straight back to the beginning to hear it all over again. From there out, the album drifts off into more heady material that isn't always quite as invigorating, but at the very least it's still more melodic and textural than past work the group has done.
"Banshee Beat" (which is perhaps a bit of misnomer given the musical content of the track) floats along on beautiful layers of guitar, processed sound and some subtle drumming and vocals, and while it never gets much louder than a slightly-quickened heartbeat, it works like a charm. At almost eight minutes, "Daffy Duck" is the only track on the disc that really lacks any sort of tension or wonderment (it has nice moments, but nothing that hasn't been achieved in greater effect on other tracks). The release closes with the wondrous "Turn Into Something" and the rollicking piece alternately strums and soars, layering dense washes of sounds and even more playful vocal melodies. So, despite one slightly soft spot, Feels is yet another album on which the Animal Collective changes their sound even further and succeeds on just about every attempt. A glorious, noisy, melodic, celebratory release from the ever-inventive group.