Call a band's style of music "freak-folk" for long enough, and eventually they'll get tired of it. That's the lesson to take from Animal Collective's Feels, an album that sees the New York quartet not only excising the acoustic elements that dominated last year's Sung Tongs but also reaching a high point in their evolution toward accessible, sensible songcraft. Opener "Did You See The Woods" sounds like a completely different band, as a single ringing guitar note rambles with fluttering piano that the guys use to craft a lovely, well-sung piece of pop. Of course, there's still a little "freak" left--"Grass"'s piano melody and bouncy tom-drum beat are interrupted by Avey Tare's banshee shrieks, yet thanks to cheeky harmony vocals, the chorus' shrieks somehow sound catchy as hell. But the songs that will resonate most are eight-minute epics "Purple Bottle" and "Banshee Beat." The latter creates a dreamy, repetitive lull with brush drumming, humming guitars and hushed vocals, while the former delivers a much more cathartic build; Tare's desperation to maintain a bad relationship ("sometimes I'm naked, and thank God, sometimes you're naked, ah-wooo") grows and finally falls apart against layers of feedback, booming tribal drums and dozens of vocal effects scattered around the stereo mix. In all, those four songs are the most captivating numbers put on a record this year, but the rest of Feels' run time is filled with spacier, feedback-filled experiments--while enjoyable, those tracks don't compare to the well-composed singles. AC fans will love Feels as a whole, while novices may be better served downloading the singles from iTunes, but either way, nobody has an excuse to miss AC's best output yet.
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