Through a better half of two decades, Animal Collective has been tuning with their vast soundscapes, bridging together grounded psychedelia and unhinged pop-chaos as they continue to attempt new directions with their music. So as I was listening to their new album, Time Skiffs, it began to dawn on me how nuanced it was to the late 2000s, where the psychedelic mold of Animal Collective rounded itself into a whirlwind of fantastic albums, like Strawberry Jam. Time Skiffs carries many strengths, but most importantly, it creates cohesion between contrasting instrumentations while tightening the bolts with awe-inducing melodies. It transcends one’s thoughts about their past, unrelentingly contrasting pop sound that felt jaded with off-kilter melodies – ones that will make you feel a slight “why” when grooving to FloriDaDa, off Painting With.
Since the release of Campfire Songs, I’ve sensed a looming presence of what a composed version of Animal Collective could be. By keeping it close to the tone, it gave them some constraints. Instead of getting some unhinged but composed psychedelic rock and art-pop, they let themselves flow freely through various layers of psychedelic folk sounds. There has always been this sonic pheromone that has made the writing of Avery Tare and Panda Bear feel centered at its emotional core as the production, specifically the electronic and percussion work of Geologist and Deakin. You hear it with a structured approach balancing the pop cohesion and unhinged fluidity, even though it doesn’t always work.
The members of Animal Collective tend to shine a respective light, especially with the directions they take. It could come from the jubilant pop sounds of “Dragon Slayer” or the hypnotic jangle-art-pop “Cherokee,” where the underlying qualities offer the kind of depth that was absent on Painting With. Though Painting With was an acute side-step toward pop obscurity, as they worked around implementing these colorful instrumentations and melodies, Time Skiffs grabs the train tracks and reroutes them back to the musical jungle. It’s easy to pinpoint the differences significantly; it’s as if their curiosity continues to show with a progression of pop texture more akin to their definitive style in psychedelia. However, they don’t limit themselves.
Amongst the first few tracks on Time Skiffs comes “Walker,” Panda Bear’s homage to pop legend Scott Walker, which offers a titillatingly upbeat production with twinkling xylophone. It adds an elegant contrast to a previous track, “Prester John,” a hybrid of two songs conceived by Avery and Panda, blended to create an atmospheric crescendo of synths underlying a dominant bass groove and piano. “Strung With Everything” adds to their level of ingenuity, as they use the influence from past pop artists to create something unique. It’s an unhinged jangle-psychedelic-pop that flurries into the skies with vibrant synths and infectious melodies; it leads you into a world filled with satisfying jabs into your ears. There is a moment about 5 minutes in where they blend in noises, like a school bell ringing. It oozes an influence from a pop style more akin to an early 70s Paul Simon record, where the fun and light isn’t too structured.
Time Skiffs dwindles as it comes to a close, offering a continuation of the pop aesthetics from past songs. Unfortunately, all three tracks don’t stand out – “Passer – By” and “Royal and Desire” muddles in the dirt, barely elevating beyond its conceptual sonic atmosphere. It isn’t “We Go Back,” where they add a more rock aesthetic beneath the melodies and pop overtones. There is a lot to enjoy when Animal Collective doesn’t overreach its creativity meter, which can often deter from their range in melancholy. It happens right after the mundane “Dragon Slayer,” with the track “Car Keys” and its lack of control. The uproarious percussion drowns out the melodies and keeps you from understanding and enjoying the poor idea meshing that gets better on “Prester John,” which follows it.
Animal Collective gives us a different light on a beautifully catchy pop that doesn’t overreach. Unlike Painting With, Animal Collective keeps it close to their element instead of creating choruses driven by memorable repetition, which is very common in pop music. I genuinely liked Time Skiffs a lot, though it has its issues, the kind of flair from the psychedelic side takes me back to the late 2000s while staying afloat with structure and confidence.