I dunno. Maybe I’m just a Philistine, or maybe it’s because I’m not from New York—which may be saying the same thing—but I just don’t get how a bunch of grunting and howling is supposed to turn basic folk-rock into some kind of transcendental listening experience. Sure, Animal Collective hinted that their new release Feels would be more “experimental” than their previous work (though it shares many traits with their last album Sung Tongs). But that, as ever, is no excuse for making a ho-hum record. If there are a few tracks that manage to be tranquilly enjoyable, it seems that the credit is due more to serendipity than to Animal Collective’s overarching musical plan.
The second half of Feels is better than the first, mostly because it’s calmer. Early tracks like “Grass” and “The Purple Bottle” are so bombastically cheery as to make The Polyphonic Spree seem phlegmatic—and your skip-ahead button seem virtually irresistible. Now, all this leaping around, hootin’ and hollerin’ may seem like fun when you’re tripping on E (then again, what doesn’t?), but in general, Feels is at its best with the metronome set to adagio. Slower offerings like “Banshee Beat” and “Loch Raven” undulate in layered, rising cues, and a sense of comfortable languor permeates the instrumentation. Plus, you can actually make out a few of the lyrics, which is nice if you’re into long pauses between words.
Problem is, Feels fails to come together as a coherent whole. Even as you find yourself enjoying one of the tracks, the next is inevitably jarring or out of place. There’s no musical plan here or, if there is, it’s the sort of plan that Dr. Evil would come up with. Some die-hards will surely rationalize that such capriciousness makes the record “challenging,” but I think most listeners will simply find it annoying. If you’re an Animal Collective devotee—especially if you’re a fan of Sung Tongs—then you may want to give Feels a shot. It contains enough kernels of Animal Collective’s older, simpler work to please the hardcore hippie that surely lurks inside you. But if you’re just getting interested in the band for the first time, you’d be better off checking out Danse Manatee instead.