Remember when the world drained their pocketbooks to the tune of half a billion dollars to see a movie that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that if a meteor is headed towards Earth, it’s easier to teach a bunch of rag tag oil rats to float in space than to teach scientists and astronauts how to use a fucking drill? The movie was Armageddon, and that same year another movie came out that, while not going with the drilling angle, used the same basic idea- A meteor is hurtling towards our planet and it’s a big deal. This one actually hits us (thanks a pants load, President Freeman), but it’s pretty much the same damn movie.
A few years earlier we had two volcano movies come out at the same time, and before that I think there were two stories about Curly’s gold. And do you know why this happens? Of course you do. You know it’s because when big business gets in the way of art, art suffers. You know that the movie studios, like the music industry, suck all the life from interesting, progressive, original ideas. That when directors and writers get beamed up to Planet Paramount, they start putting out garbage that will sell instead of what they want. You know this because you’re reading an Animal Collective review instead of watching Big Momma’s House 2. And this is why you may have a problem with what I’m going to tell you.
Animal Collective has always been true Indie- If not for their wacky, anti-song sound they’ve been working at for years, then because they still have a DIY attitude and aren’t doing US tours opening for The Killers. Their sometimes disturbing artwork and promo pics show that they’re not looking for a McDonald’s commercial in the near future, and have always seemed to have a vision that was inaccessible, odd, and honest. But with their new record, Feels, we see a shift that makes this by far the best, and worst, Animal Collective release.
Feels starts out fast and fantastic. The first couple of songs, especially “Grass”, are boner-inducing catchy; almost anthems with a mix of magical forest instruments and unexpected melodies. A little later, “The Purple Bottle” pulls off the same brilliance. It’s the sound of The Arcade Fire if they were on mushrooms instead of lived in Canada.
But when the record starts to turn more towards the experimental approach they’re known for, I find myself mainlining Mountain Dew Code Red just to give even a microscopic shit about what’s going on. Now usually I’m all over this stuff like Jay Leno on OJ jokes; their last record, the much weirder, radio-resistant Sung Tongs is a great listen all the way through. But this is because unlike Feels, A.C. seemed more dedicated to making those songs crazy and obtuse and off-the-wall, but above everything actually good. There were mood shifts, but also a consistency that kept you interested. There is nothing like that in this poorly executed mishmash.
While not as extreme as the last Mars Volta filler extravaganza, Feels tries to prove two points- That A.C. can write hooky, pop-laden insanity and still stay true to their anti-song agenda. While this may satisfy new listeners as well as old fans, I want to hear a record, not an agenda. Instead of an evolution, it’s just some really amazing songs mixed with the soundtrack of a deer doing algebra. It’s like a 7 course meal where you get soup, salad, and then some crayon drawings of foods kids really like.
The stunning closer on the record “Turn Into Something” is appropriately titled, and forces me to offer The Animal Collective some advice- Sell the fuck out. Just take a hunk of that sell out pie that I’m sure you’ve been offered and scarf it down. Either you spent all your time working on the legitimate songs for this record or you just suck at the experimental stuff now. That’s fine. Just learn from it. Focus on your new wacky brand of pop. I don’t care if you bum out some college rock DJ. I can always listen to Sun City Girls when I want to be wicked underground. You already have 6 records of psychotic songs under your belt. You got a guy named Geologist, for god’s sake. This is enough to hang your art rock berets on. Do what you now do best. Maybe sign with a major. Maybe go on tour with The Killers. Buy mansions that look like Pee-Wee’s house. But from now on, write songs that actually sound like songs.
I’ll still be there to buy the next record, promise.