Album Review: Time Skiffs- Animal Collective


Animal Collective challenges preconceived notions of perceptual sound in their newest release, Time Skiffs. Coming together in their first joint venture since 2016’s Painting With, the Baltimore-based group crafts artistic soundscapes, lyrics probed by stream of consciousness, and memorable melodies bound to conjure up nostalgic visions from sunnier times. 

The album is inventive in an accessible way, something the band has more or less shied away from in previous releases. The chamber pop choruses interweave with intense synth-based melodies and jangling samples, creating environments similar to Strawberry Jam-era tracks. The effervescent reverb-coated chimes combined with disarming, dream-like passages make for a truly delicious sonic experience.

No better example of Animal Collective’s sonic mastery can be found than the magical “Prester John”, the result of two songs, one written by Avey Tare and the other by Panda Bear, interwoven together. The song features breathtaking vocal harmonies, twinkling synths and a deep bass groove, ending in a masterful sound collage. “Walker” is another standout, with the last thirty seconds offering a beautifully panned sound bath, Laurie Anderson-adjacent in execution. 

The effortless blend of toe tapping vocals and rhythmic synthesis is amplified by strong production work from Italian engineer Marta Salogni, who, in addition to Animal Collective, has worked with Björk, Porridge Radio, and The Orielles. It’s no surprise that the record was mixed in Asheville, North Carolina, home of analog synth pioneer Robert Moog- Animal Collective is making him proud. 

On “Cherokee”, the album reaches another impressive climax, as the musical seesaw teeters between a car ride with the windows down and a profound, out of body experience. The title of the song is a reference to Animal Collective’s rocky history with indigenous representation- in recent years the band changed the title of their fourth album from Here Comes the Indian to Ark, reflecting a more evolved worldview. Wrapped in a warm swath of discordant instrumentals complemented by Panda Bear’s stellar drum work, Tare puts into words driving around his hometown near Asheville. “There’ll be lots of lonely mailboxes when language disappears // And people on the subway think so far to be so near”, he sings, offering an appreciated ode to the American experience through references to all of the classics: M&Ms and Tom Hanks, to name but a few.

Animal Collective records have always encouraged a new outlook on the most mundane and fundamental aspects of life: friendships, nature, family. With almost two decades of experience under their belts, the commitment the band has to respecting their environments both sonically and physically is evident. Time Skiffs is a welcome escape from the back and forth, the hustle and bustle, the synthetic environments we surround ourselves with, in favor of a welcome reprieve via experimental dreamscape. Who wouldn’t want to live in that?

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