Animal Collective: Time Skiffs

Animal Collective navigated their first decade as if lost in some surreal and splendorous dream. From 2000’s Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished to 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, the quartet functioned like a perpetually mutating organism, reshaping their sound and character not just album-to-album, but occasionally mid-sentence. But in response to Merriweather’s crossover success, they would spend much of the following decade acclimatizing to the waking world as a festival-ready force that had to concern itself with hitting the back rows. Their records became more over-the-top and in-your-face, and felt less like drifting through a dream than listening to someone manically reenact theirs. Through a combination of solo projects, familial obligations, and transatlantic living, the band that once used the stage as their sandbox was confined to studio-scheduled creativity: Their 2016 album, Painting With, was the first Animal Collective album that didn’t get workshopped in a live setting before being committed to tape.

But since then, Animal Collective have been overcompensating for those limitations in the most wonderful of ways. Even when you factor in pandemic shutdowns, the past half-decade has been one of the most prolific stretches of this group’s career, yielding field-recording experiments, audiovisual projects, and soundtracks that have rekindled their improvisatory impulses. And, Sung Tongs anniversary tour notwithstanding, their live performances once again became communal woodshedding experiences. Beginning with a mini-residency at New Orleans’ Music Box Village in 2018, Animal Collective previewed a bounty of new material, some of which, naturally, has changed quite radically over the years. Following much YouTubed documentation, a handful of extended, more abstract tracks officially surfaced on 2020’s Bridge to Quiet EP. Time Skiffs is the long-awaited climax to this period of prodigious exploration—an album that achieves a peaceful equilibrium between Animal Collective’s immersive 3D soundscaping and innate melodic charms. Call it an Animal Corrective.

With its inviting ambiance, unhurried vibe, and ebullient group harmonies, Time Skiffs readily conjures warm memories of AnCo’s late-2000s halcyon days. But the album possesses a personality and methodology all its own. Over the years, Animal Collective’s free-flowing aesthetic, lovey-dovey sentiments, and fondness for tie-dye have garnered any number of Grateful Dead comparisons, but this is the first record where they sound like an actual jam band. While Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) has traditionally used his drum kit to heighten the clamor of the group’s most chaotic moments, here, he plays the steady timekeeper governed by a dubby discipline. The album’s two opening tracks, “Dragon Slayer” and “Car Keys,” are presented as discrete songs, but were performed live last year as a single continuous piece, like interlocking units in the same space-age bachelor-pad complex.

Updated: February 4, 2022 — 12:00 pm