At their most visible over the last decade via their solo projects, Animal Collective have continued to carve avant-garde avenues in a variety of guises, championing the off-planetary pop persona at the heart of their near twenty-year history as a unit.
Their first joint venture since 2016, Time Skiffs sees the Baltimorean experimentalists reassembling once more to lay down their eclectic credentials. With Painting With and the non-linear concept of visual album Tangerine Reef, sans Panda Bear, detouring from the baroque pull of previous releases, the outfit have nevertheless retained the harmonic core that has coordinated each effort; consistent in resisting any inclination to mellow despite intervening years of personal change.
This eleventh record presents a kaleidoscopically feverish series of soundscapes structured with stream of consciousness lyrics, as could be linked to much of the four-piece’s back-catalogue. Their latest struts with the sudden drops of chamber pop akin to Strawberry Jam-era tracks such as “Peacebone”; candied sheen piercing abstract, often disorienting passages, cutting through to the outfit’s ability to marry bubble-gum shimmer with extended fever dreamed dimensions. Time Skiffs loops such neo-psychedelic sprawl with the crossover accessibility welcomed with Merriweather Post Pavilion, collisions of synth and Beach Boys-tapping vocals that find potency on tracks such as “Walker” and the aqueous “Dragon Slayer”, warbling with Centipede Hz restlessness.
The Yeasayer-channelling “Car Keys” alternates with global influences in a jangled reversion to effervescent form, while ‘70s prog inflections creep through “Passer-by”, in part resembling the hazy instrumentals of Can and Gong. Alien ambience dominates elsewhere, with treacly patches of electronica permeating “Prester John” in Another Green World-era Brian Eno fashion, while “Strung with Everything” veers between calypso and ABBA-like keys, testament to the band’s versatility. Time Skiffs angles between incidental blasts of digital fuzz and the purely melodic, resurrecting the freeform yet tangible instinct of Animal Collective’s earlier work; ambitiously addictive without appearing self-indulgently so.