(Fat Cat, October 18)
I’m a sucker for inelegance. Something about perfection and grace makes me take up arms. Maybe it’s my low self-esteem, but whatever. I hate beauty. Or, I should say, what I find beautiful is not archetypical. I’m a fan of the awkward, the peculiar, the asymmetrical. I like people who are slightly inept, who share my obliviousness and discomfort. I like to feel that I’m in a place where I’m not the only one who hasn’t a clue. I like to see faults on display like keys to knowledge and individuality. I suppose this is one of the reasons why I am drawn to independent music. I love unpolished sound and sparse production and understatement and rockers who don’t have enough money to cover up their insecurities and inabilities.
It’s easy for a band like Wolf Parade or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to flaunt imperfection and ungainliness because they’re newly-formed and because their very nature is to be rough and anxious. What is more difficult is to similarly reveal laxity and deficiencies when you’re a reasonably experienced band whose heart is in down-tempo collage and who relies on intricate sound-layering that normally needs structure and crispness to be successful. On Feels Animal Collective treads further into waters of classic pop; still, their sound remains relatively oblique, and their execution as charmingly clumsy as ever.
The more traditional tunes on Feels include the openers “Did You See the Words” and “Grass,” which are “more traditional” in the sense that they contain hooks and melodies and simple chord progressions. But in the case of the former the conventionality is flushed with an emaciated, chaotic noise that never really decides what it wants to be. Conversely, on “Grass” the sound is defined, mimicking cutie sixties pop until it’s jarred by the chorus of syncopated shrieks and cymbal crashes that come from nowhere. This juxtaposition creates a tension that is less dramatic and more beautifully self-conscious. This awkward confusion is further exemplified by “You Should Turn Into Something,” which is understated indie rock, beginning modestly with a flimsy chorus and gradually growing with layers of orchestral electronic noise, yet never reaching a climax and ending inconclusively.
But Feels isn’t entirely modest. It contains two epics, the first being “The Purple Bottle,” which is something of a suite with the first half being cute and catchy despite a primal beat and Avey Tare's vocals that are so strained they’re almost painful to listen to. But this only adds to that adorable gawkiness, especially when he sings lyrics like, “It’d make me sick…to kiss you/and I think that I would vomit/but I’ll do that on Monday/I don’t have a work plan.” Through rumbling bass and guitar and sforzando drum beats the tune dramatically transitions into something less frantic, something more messy and intriguing that leaves the impression of a million different sounds that you just can’t discern lurking underneath the surface. The second blockbuster-of-a-tune is the melancholy “Banshee Beat,” which initially lingers translucently and grows subtly with a melodic guitar line and elaborate percussion and vocals climaxing into something as grandiloquent as anything the eighties ever produced.
Despite all the sounds layered here, Feels lacks the sterility of other albums released by so-called avant-garde pop artists. Through its ostensibly reckless production it loses minimalist clarity but gains a punk rock spirit. While overall the music is nonlinear and erratic, it maintains rationale and emotion. “Flesh Canoe” is unstructured and unmelodic, with grating guitar, frivolous bits of piano and lifeless vocals that ramble ceaselessly with no direction; however, Animal Collective has much more control of their music then they let on. Through gentle cadences, through dynamic swellings, through youthfully candid lyrics (“Haven’t seen you in a week or three days/though it really bugs me/it’s nice to find new ways to smile.”), the band is able to create more emotion than the conventional band is on a standard pop record. Animal Collective isn‘t afraid to be aesthetically displeasing and disjunctive, as exemplified by the amorphous “The Bees,” but they don’t sacrifice warmth and splendor for the sake of innovation. Paradoxically they are able to encapsulate humble sentiments with ambitious noise. The track is stuffed with various incongruous elements, but each element shimmers to create a haunting ambience that, rather than being complexly structured, is simply unstructured. There doesn’t seem to be any great effort here, or anywhere else on the album, to outwit listeners, to create academic noise that lacks heart; Feels is the mark of a band able to rein in its pedantic capabilities to create heartfelt music that wears its flaws like battle scars.