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‘Time Skiffs’: Animal Collective’s best studio album since 2009

| Friday, February 18, 2022

Claire Reid | The Observer

Back in 2020, The Strokes released their sixth album, “The New Abnormal,” and in doing so, aged gracefully into their status as a legacy act. They’re not necessarily doing anything new, but they’re doing what they’ve always been good at and doing it well (which is more than one can say for other legacy acts). The question for pop band, Animal Collective, is where they stand with their latest album, “Time Skiffs,” released over 20 years into their career. Unlike The Strokes — who basically only ever did one thing — Animal Collective, in the tradition of musical chameleons of rock like David Bowie, have never lingered for long on a single aesthetic. A mark of a great musical artist, in my humble opinion, is always managing to produce new music that sounds totally different from what they’ve done before while still totally sounding like themselves. With “Time Skiffs,” Animal Collective manages to maintain that standard musical exploration.

“Time Skiffs” is Animal Collective’s best outing possibly since their 2009 breakthrough album, “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” I wouldn’t call it “Dad rock,” but it does have a distinct “Dad” energy. Animal Collective albums to me always paint sonic portraits of landscapes. “Centipede Hz,” their goblin mode album from 2012, presents a desert beneath a beating red sun, whereas their 2005 album, “Feels,” situates itself deep within the garden of Eden. “Time Skiffs” is a twilight forest, intimate, verdant, content and laid back, but not quite nocturnal. On the album, it is clear that Animal Collective is playing with a full deck of cards. This is to say that every member of Animal Collective contributed to the album, which is not always the case. “Merriweather Post Pavilion” and their previous effort, 2016’s “Painting With,” for example, did not feature Deakin (Josh Dibbs). The twilight forest aesthetic of “Time Skiffs” is reminiscent of his 2016 solo album, “Sleep Cycle.” In fact, it seems to me that this is the Animal Collective album most creatively driven by him, as opposed to Avey Tare (David Portner) and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), who are typically described in reviews as the arbiters of each album’s musical direction. 

One of the most novel aspects of “Time Skiffs,” to me at least, is the dub timbre of the rhythm section. The rhythm carries on deep, steady and drenched in reverb. The album is notably less hyper and manic than their previous two studio albums. Animal Collective’s music is always very emotional, but it establishes its nuanced emotional aesthetics sonically before adding specificity lyrically. The dubby aesthetic keeps the music calm, finding a happy medium between the long, mellow, atmospheric-reflective songs and the active, hyper-passionate bangers that defined the two poles of 2005’s “Feels,” one of their best albums. “Strung with Everything” is the most intense song on the album, with its stopping-and-starting and grand piano-pounding, and it toes the line perfectly between those poles. The entire album is drenched in beautiful harmonies and the graceful playful melodies for which Animal Collective is known. The harmonies which had fueled Animal Collective’s breakthrough with “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” here serve to augment the intimacy of the twilight forest aesthetic of “Time Skiffs,” demonstrated best on the lead single, “Prester John.”

“Time Skiffs” is a gorgeous album that demonstrates Animal Collective is still committed to exploring the frontiers of music and still refuses to be pinned down by genre designations. Animal Collective continues here what it has always done: welcoming, surprising and challenging listeners by wearing their hearts on their sleeves in new and fascinating ways. In their discography, “Time Skiffs,” carves out a spot for itself in its emotional sketches of the life that accompanies the fulfillment of the wish to provide for their loved ones that they expressed so long ago in their breakthrough single, “My Girls.”

Album: “Time Skiffs”

Artist: Animal Collective

Label: Domino

Favorite Tracks: Prester John, Strung with Everything, Cherokee

If you like: Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Mellow Indie Pop

Rating: 5 out of 5

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