New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: Animal Collective is still grooving on new album

On “Isn’t It Now?,” Animal Collective demonstrates how chemistry is the key to its sound.
Psychedelic pop band, Animal Collective, released their new album,”Isn’t It Now?” (Courtesy photo by Hisham Akira Bharoocha and Abby Portner)

From the explosive maximalism of “Merriweather Post Pavilion” to the mind-bending one-of-a-kind acoustic sounds on “Sung Tongs,” Animal Collective has adeptly explored a wide spectrum of psychedelic sounds across its several studio projects. The band’s latest album, “Isn’t It Now?,” skirts closer to the reggae-influenced sounds of last year’s “Time Skiffs” than the freak folk of its earlier days. The sonic similarities are unsurprising, given that it is made up of unused songs from that fantastic record. But in the hands of Grammy-winning producer Russell Elevado — best known for his work with The Roots, Kamasi Washington and D’Angelo — the band puts it under a more focused lens.

The album opener, “Soul Capturer,” hypnotizes with the unceasing repetition of a deceptively simple, chugging beat. Here, and in several other instances throughout the record, the band feels locked into something communal — it’s intent on finding a groove and mining it for everything it has. “Genie’s Open” explores a similar effect: It’s so disorienting that you hardly notice its nearly eight-minute runtime. The shared vocal duties of Avey Tare and Panda Bear here and throughout the album allow them to warp melodies around each other, percussively bouncing back and forth like auditory pingpong. 

On “Magicians From Baltimore,” Animal Collective strikes a different tone. With Tare’s vocals leading the band, he wails an elegy to youth and days gone by in their hometown: “I was a thief / I faked a call / Emptied a bar in Baltimore / Sat on the stairs / Where somebody swears.” While still cryptic, it’s some of their most straightforward songwriting in years, save only for the fact that it stretches on for over nine minutes. The band’s lyrics have always been a hugely underrated element of its members’ talents in albums past, often overlooked beneath layers of booming sound. The simpler direction Animal Collective has now adopted sheds some light on the band’s ability to convey emotion through language just as well as it does through screaming crescendos and explosive beat drops.

Animal Collective’s lyrics likewise shine through over the 22 minutes of the record that “Defeat” occupies. A previous song of the same name had been subtitled “(A Not Suite),” and the longest song on the band’s longest record to date does seem to mimic the form of a multi-sectional suite. The piece feels symphonic in scale, summoning a twinkling soundscape behind an endless odyssey of gorgeous harmonies. It’s hard to make sense of it all as it ebbs and flows in waves, but the raw power of the composition — along with its unbelievable vocal performances — lend it relistenability despite its marathon length. It’s moving to hear this much inventiveness from Animal Collective over 20 years into their tenure together. After warping and fading in meditative bliss, the track fades down to nothing at all.

After the sheer ambition of the album’s first half, the band charges into a fantastic stretch of jammier and looser material later in the album. “Gem & I” features a reggae-esque steel-drum beat that pairs well with a keyboard straight out of a smoky old-world poker room, and “Stride Rite” is a gorgeous moment for the band in one of their first Deakin-sung tracks in years.

What really becomes apparent with “Isn’t It Now?” is that the incredible otherworldly sounds that Animal Collective has always been able to produce in the studio have never been the only secret to their magic. The stripped-down core instrumentation of bass, guitar, drums and synths forces the band to explore the experimental potential within rhythm itself, rather than exploding it as it so often has. Watching the band’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert from last year, it’s hard to believe that those sounds are coming from such a bare stage. Here, sparser than they have been in years, it becomes clear that incredible chemistry is the key to their lush sound and consistent success.

Animal Collective has never looked more like a rock band than it does now. By taking away so many of its well-worn tools, the band has left itself with no choice but to rewrite its playbook once more. The result is a dazzling sonic journey.

Contact Holden Lay at [email protected].

Leave a comment

Comments (0)

Comments that are deemed spam or hate speech by the moderators will be deleted.
All Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *