Feels: an Animal Collective Album
For me, psychedelic music was always stuff like The Mamas and The Papas, post-Sgt. Pepper's Beatles, or the Byrds. You know, hippie stuff. Grateful Dead and the Doors are also flagbearers of my perception of the genre, but I'd not been able to explore much of the music that was made between then and now. That is, until things like youtube came along.
The psych trends evolved and stayed in the shadows throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but by the time the aughts came into play, it started coming back into the light. I would say that not all indie music is psychedelic, but all neo-psychedelic bands are somehow categorized as indie. Notables amongst this crowd being Tame Impala, MGMT, Grizzly Bear (I guess?), and Animal Collective.
At first, the entire era was somewhat grating. The singing style that had become far too popular for its own good was this childish nasality and frankly poor form. Female singers tended to be cutesy and slathered in quirk. Bands like Mumford and Sons made me almost detest folk music, a genre that had been a favorite for a decade--until they came along. But I dove in nonetheless.
I've never grasped onto any of this decade's main acts with much earnest. I would have to say that AnCo at least fascinated me enough to keep listening through their albums (another thing popular music has lost track of, the album). I'll be the first to say that their use of these goofy high school nicknames is really just silly, but not in the endearing way. More like the creepy way. And their general lyrical content is buried rather deeply into their music, to the point where you either need a seriously expensive speaker relay or you might as well wear headphones. And when you finally look lyrics up and resolve to follow along, you find a lot of the words and phrases are trite and kinda bourgeoisie. And they're extremely repetitive (more on this later). And their singers, "Panda Bear" and "Avey Tare", sound like a Brian Wilson with down syndrome and a strangled chicken, respectively. And so on. And so forth.
"Feels" seems to be the fan favorite, even into 2018. This is often recommended as a starting point for newbies. I'm not exactly sure why, because everyone generally considers "Merriweather Post Pavilion" their most readily accessible album, and I'd also consider "Strawberry Jam" a better choice over this one. It doesn't start off badly, actually, and for someone like me who has an extensive history of listening to folk music, this is almost in that arena. Almost.
I've seen the band referred to as "freak folk", but I don't know why. I've never considered folk to be a genre where melody takes a back seat to....whatever hipsters were doing back then. Stan Rogers, the great Canadian singer-songwriter, has less in common with anything in the indie marketplace than he does with the Rolling Stones. That's saying something. And it's also saying something when kids consider this album "extremely melodic". Of course melodies are present, but they're never the focus, and melodic music requires them to be the focal point.
AnCo does however interesting things with harmony and rhythm, which is why I find their fanbase's claim of melodic to be so perplexing. I do not find myself singing along to any songs from this album, frankly, but you can catch me karaoke in my car to every single Blondie song ever recorded. What kept me interested in the album for as long as I was is the weird lack of relation all these elements have to do with the song itself. To conventional music listeners, this is an entirely chaotic maelstrom of sound.
I do not understand why this album is also categorized as Rock. This album does not rock or roll in any way. It's far more easy listening or adult contemporary, except without the attractive melodies and soaring backing tracks. This is a bunch of stoned, awkward young men who really did not have a conventional childhood. It's very hard to figure out how musically talented they really are, because most everything I hear of theirs is just a looped phrase with a million effects. For all I know, they're just punching away on 3 notes and letting their extensive delay chain do all the fancy runs.
I get it, it's starting to sound like all I'm going to do is belittle this band and their music. No one else really has, especially with this album, which is just too highly regarded as some flash of brilliance. If I am listening to any artist's catalog, I'm going into the situation wanting to like them. When I first listened to Bruce Cockburn, I wanted desperately to like his stuff so I could add another musician into my collection of favorites, and with him, I did. The same thing happened with AnCo,except I didn't really get converted into a fan.
"Did You See the Words?" is the album opener, and honestly this is the best moment on the album until the final song. I still find it a song I can listen to, and if anything from this project is convincingly in the corner for Rock & Roll, perhaps this is the song. It has the general bubbly and dreamy feel that their music tends to rely on, but the song moves enough and--believe it or not--really seems focused more on the melody than is typical for the band.
"Grass" comes into play screaming (no, really, the dude screams a bunch in it), and I find it mostly irritating. Pitchfork called it "infectious", but I think they gave the word positive connotation. Musically, I'd be more ok with it if it didn't sound like a schizophrenic dancing naked in Central Park. Lyrically, it seems to be trying to go "deep", but pop music hasn't had an ounce of depth since Cobain.
Track three is "Flesh Canoe", and I don't really dislike this track. In the right mood at the right time of year, it can actually be enjoyable (think road trip on a hot summer day). If you don't like it, you're lucky that it's not terribly long (as was the case with "Grass") and we do have track skipping now. We no longer have to deal with holding a button down til you reach the correct section of tape. Well, most of us don't, anyway. This song has a nice acid rock feel, albeit a bit shoegazey in its rhythm.
"The Purple Bottle" seems to be the favorite track for fans from this album. I definitely prefer it to everything but the first track, and here again they almost reach prog-rock songwriting status, yet are nowhere near as virtuosic as the prog greats of yore. The song is sonically pleasant really, albeit repetitive. Turns out, this is a tactic taken from trance music, which makes sense because the psychedelic experience is essentially trance-like. As a trick, it's fine, but the incessant repetition of conventional modern pop songs had me initially averse toward the trend.
"Bees" sums up everything I absolute hate about this band, this album, and this genre. End of Line.
"Banshee Beat" is both long and slow. It builds slowly, it barely keeps your attention through the first half, and frankly that's long enough a span of time for most people to have easily skipped forward to the next disappointment. Yet this song continues to be well received, and often recommended as a great starting point for new listeners. This probably has something to do with irony, but that's not cool anymore, so who cares.
"Daffy Duck" continues this doggedly slow affair through the second half of the album (last time the music had any bounce to it we were talking about violet drinking objects). I wanted to like Daffy, because frankly I like the character from Looney Tunes. This is about as disengaging a song as you can imagine. Nothing about it is memorable, but at least it didn't elicit enough disdain from me to completely skip over reviewing it.
"Loch Raven" made me want to just stop listening to this album. At this point I'd suffered through almost twenty-two minutes of meandering hipster philosophy and random noises that I didn't want to know the origin of. Even worse was the lack of alertness this album injects, and since I was driving, I didn't enjoy that effect. I don't need to be hypnotized while I'm operating a four-wheel-death-machine, thanks. But I've returned to this album plenty more times when not dealing with the moving tin can of destruction, and I still don't like anything after "Bottle". Well...
Except "Turn Into Something", which thankfully begins to sound like folk music. There's a playfulness, somewhat human feeling, and it moves along at a nice pace. Some people probably get some awesome divine-spiritual experience when this kicks them out of their trance, but I prefer just skipping to this song from track four. The cadence is more of that Panda kid than the squawky one, but it has a nice sunset-like feeling to it and works to close out the album, at least.
Believe me, I've wanted to catch on to whatever fever this project caused back in the mid 00's, but I just can't latch onto it that well. It has material in it that works, but most doesn't and frankly, I do not understand why this is as popular among their fans as it happens to be. Maybe because it's so uncool, it's cool?
I will always consider at least 4 other projects they've made to be far superior to this one, but there is always room for a few of these songs when I'm in the mood for them. I feel as if this album sort of just floats. It isn't moving anywhere, it isn't doing anything. I'm sure that's the point of it. Doesn't really matter, though, because what essentially sounds like a lazy and thrown together mix of noises and half-written songs has sold a lot more copies and made these guys a lot more money than I might ever make in my lifetime.
After all, that's essentially the American Dream, isn't it?