Animal Collective Exit Their Flop Era on 'Time Skiffs'

BY Allie GregoryPublished Feb 1, 2022

Animal Collective set a high bar with their output in the 2000s, and then undeniably lost steam in the 2010s, a period that coincided with the band splintering off into varying iterations of hit-and-miss solo and multimedia projects. You'd be forgiven if you wrote them off entirely after that. Latest offering Time Skiffs — the proper follow-up to 2016's underwhelming Painting With — signals that, after all this time, traces remain of the artistically unified unit capable of groundbreaking pop experimentalism.

Returning to their signature twinkling arpeggiated synths on the bulk of the record's nine chunky tracks, the band hearken back to a pre-Merriweather AnCo era, serving up some of the most accessible and least jarring tunes from the full ensemble since 2009 (save for 2020's Bridge to Quiet EP). Picking and choosing their best elements for a distillation of the band's decades-long discography — adding a heavy dose of nostalgia here and there — the pioneering psych-popsters press their freak folk through a chill-out filter, settling into their new phase as less hedonistic, mellowed-out dads, and delivering their best work in years.

Avey Tare's intermittent yelping, once omnipresent, is traded out for the oft-eccentric vocalist's most subdued singing to date, especially on mid-album trip "Cherokee," a euphoric, cheery wade into welcoming waters. Meanwhile, Panda Bear's reverberated, lush vocals (first perfected when he met the Grim Reaper back in 2015) are the foundation for Time Skiffs' second track "Car Keys," a tune dripping with a brand of melancholy not typically endorsed in Noah Lennox's group work. Elsewhere, Lennox's Beach Boys sensibilities take on a SpongeBob-core quality (in a good way) on "Strung with Everything." 

Further blending genre, xylophone-led "Walker" mixes trip-hop grooviness with more of Panda's Brian Wilson-isms in a fitting tribute to the late Scott Walker; "Passer-by" employs Stardew Valley organs sounds in a dusty desert haze; "Royal and Desire" sounds like a straight-up Veckatimest cut; while lead single "Prester John" is among the most natural incorporations of a hurdy-gurdy solo ever heard in pop music history. "We Go Back," which dabbles in hyperpop vocal plug-ins, hints that the group are moving into their next era, and aren't necessarily satisfied relegating themselves to becoming a Xennial dad-rock legacy act.

With all the album's nostalgia-serving glory, we would be remiss to ignore the simultaneous resurgence of the "indie sleaze" era among the TikTok crowd, a cultural phenomenon that could propel Animal Collective's upswing with Time Skiffs into another golden era — if they play their cards right. Fingers crossed they can really up the ante on the next one.

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