ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: FEELS (2005)
Maybe if you only want one Animal Collective album, Feels is the one to get. Maybe. Starting with Strawberry Jam, they would begin to bury themselves under deep, deep layers of kaleidoscopic sonic panzers, but on Feels you can still experience the band in plenty of intimate ways (and I mean that in the decent sense of the expression) — and, at the same time, still quite accessible and, might I suggest, even understandable.
Diehard fans of the band may think of 'Did You See The Words' and 'Grass' as way too simplistic and mass-marketed, betraying the unsigned agreement between Panda Bear, Avey Tare and those select few that actually paid them money for their early releases. I prefer, on the other hand, to view all of their earlier career as a preparatory stage for these quirky psycho-pop masterpieces. What I see and feel here is real sunshine-soaked joy, filtered through a crazy impressionistic mechanism but totally sincere in its essence. The lyrics, as usual, make no sense, but once lines like 'there's something living in these lines' and 'there's something starting, don't know why' are delivered, there is an odd "brand new day" kind of feeling — obviously, sharpened by the bright, upbeat melody, the steady rhythmic build-up, and the glimmering production — that can fill you up with optimism if you just lower the deflector shields for one moment.
But this is no longer whacko fairy-tale muzak like they used to do early on. This is a different kind of "light", not the kind I would recommend to play to kids: this is denser stuff, and more bent on creating solid musical background than just goofing off on a vocal basis. Certainly the singing is still the central point of attraction: songs on which there are no solid vocal hooks are only half as good as those songs on which they continue to invoke the spirit of Brian Wilson circa 1967. But even when they're only half good, they still make sense — after the initial blast of energy, the album gradually sinks into foggy trance, inviting you to trip along, swooning hazily to the trills and chills of 'Bees' and 'Daffy Duck'.
Actually, the best comparison I can make of this new ambient side of theirs is to the early Grateful Dead (around the Anthem Of The Sun period), but they're better, because they sing better than the Grateful Dead, and the sound is quite a bit richer than the Dead's (well, this is the 21st century, after all). There is a great, respectable sense of balance on these tracks — neither too minimalistic to become boring, nor too overproduced to become disorienting. Some atmospheric keyboard background, some gentle raga-like guitar strumming, and a general supernatural feel to the proceedings that may have something to do with the odd tuning of all the instruments (band members later confessed they tuned everything around some original loops recorded from a «naturally de-tuned» old piano).
Feels is, indeed, one excellent title for the album, all consisting of a bunch of "feels" — and at least one or two of them are probably guaranteed to fall in line with your own. (I'm not speaking here of the upbeat material, restricted to the first two songs and 'Purple Bottle'; this kind of material, I'm sure, will be pleasing to everyone who has gotten, in his or her life, past the stage of calling things "annoying"). For me, the best of these "feels" is 'Bees', with its tender vocal cascades and deep piano rumble and harp-like strumming. For you, may be anything else. Other "feels" — most of the second half of the album, in fact — leave me in a relatively cold state, but I am not complaining, at least, not the brain part of me, which has, early on, claimed the right to declare a thumbs up state while the heart was still undecisive. Yet, with the added support of the life-affirming beauty of 'Did You See The Words' and 'Grass', the decision holds up pretty well, and the album, along with Sung Tongs, means the peak of this band for me.