I've started working for a music review site (thethrillofitall.net) and I thought I'd share my reviews here. Any comments/complaints/suggestions/criticism would be welcomed, and you may well discover some great music. Most of my first reviews will be of established albums rather than new music, though some will be contemporary. If you'd like recommendations or anything similar please don't hesitate to ask.
My reviews will mostly be in constant prose. They will usually be structured by talking about the band, the context of the album, a few specifics and then essentially a track by track overview and analysis where applicable. I will give a percentage score for each track and an average overall but this is purely how much I enjoyed them, not representative of any objective quality. I do not claim to know nearly enough about music to make that kind of judgement yet.
Animal Collective - Feels
Animal Collective (Dave Portner [Avey Tare], Noah Lennox [Panda Bear], Josh Dibb [Deakin] and Brian Weitz [Geologist]) are a band with one very clear mission - to have no two records sound the same. Feels, following a year from their most popularly well received release to date, 2004's Sung Tongs demonstrated a desire to move away from the acoustic guitar and light or clustered percussion that were also prevalent on the less successful Campfire Songs (2003). Moving into heavier drumming with more electric guitar and piano than seen before shows AnCo at their very best as, essentially, an alternative pop rock band.
That said, it is remarkably different to put them into a genre. Their earliest releases - the experimental albeit focused Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, the insane noise of Danse Manatee or the soundscaping of Here Comes the Indian, combined with the drug fuelled improvisation in their live recording Hollindagain, show AnCo to be a band capable of anything, equally capable of producing a pop song as they are an acoustic ballad or fifteen minute experimental soundscape. With Feels, their intention seems apparent in the title, and across the 9 tracks - although it clocks in at a lengthy 52 minutes - Avey Tare expresses the depths of human emotion with some of his most powerful songwriting to date.
Feels begins with AnCo showing their fullest capacity as a pop group, and truly if one had only listened to Sung Tongs and Campfire Songs or Spirit and Indian, one would never expect the albums to be by the same band. The opener, 'Did You See the Words', buzzes into life with a few strums of guitar in the first few bars before bursting into a full pop rock anthem that can still be counted among AnCo's best. Avey Tare's lyrics are some of his most creative, likening the creation of words on a page to the process of childbirth in visceral detail without any overt imagery at all:
"Have you seen them?/
The words cut open/
Your poor intestines/
When the inky periods drip from your mailbox and/
Blood flies, dip and glide, reach down inside/
There's something living in these lines/"
Tare has often been criticised for the abstract and seemingly meaningless nature of his lyricism ("Do the elderly couples still kiss and hug and grab their big wrinkly skin so tough wrinkly wrink wrink wrinkly rough…?") but here he demonstrates all the craft and linguistical command of a poet. Even in his more abstract lyrics the way they intertwine with the music makes it almost unnoticeable, especially in his conversational style. The more you listen to Feels, the more prevalent the emotion behind his words becomes, both relatable and empathetic, and some songs become inspiring, others genuinely moving.
Ever since Spirit, Avey Tare and Panda Bear have experimented using their voices as instruments as well as just singing. Feels is a prime example of this, showcasing both Tare's exceptional vocal range and the band's ingenuity with vocals. The opener fades to a looping crescendo of voices, 'Grass' turns a normal pop rock song into yelps of passion, and 'The Purple Bottle' features an entire section consisting solely of voices. 'Bees' adds reverb and pitch alteration to a greater extent, warping and distorting their voices. And ‘Turn Into Something’ uses choral support like one could expect to hear from most rock bands.
Feels is possibly one of AnCo’s most, if not the most, complete album in their impressive discography. It starts with three pop rock songs that show what they can do in that regard. Then there is ‘The Purple Bottle’, which thunders in a heavy drum beat with Tare’s chanting conversational lyrics, genius breaks and transitions into a howling finale. It is widely regarded as one of their most impressive songs, and if you are smitten, try listening to the version from the Variety Playhouse in 2006 called ‘Big Big Beat’. It’s all the more emotive, and features the Stevie Wonder lyrics that the band were forbidden from including.
AnCo are often praised for their patience. They don’t rush into a chorus or hook – often there won’t even be one – but draw you into the music and engage you with rhythm, vocals and melody alike. There doesn’t need to be a finale, but when there is they do it superbly. It can be summed up thus: AnCo always do exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. They never hold one sustain too long, always change to the right key when needed, are never too repetitive or too teasing. They’re catering to the Goldilockses of music fans.
After ‘The Purple Bottle’ the mood of the album changes. ‘Bees’ returns to the acoustics and slower tempo that was common on the previous record, and soothes and calms down the poppy progression of the album entirely. With a continuous scratching guitar, supported by gorgeous trickling pianos and light reverberating vocals it can be considered one of AnCo’s more beautiful songs.
It all is a set up for what follows, however. This is where the true ‘feels’ begin. ‘Banshee Beat’ – an eight minute ballad – is arguably the best thing the band has recorded, and is a song the word “perfect” can be somewhat convincingly used. It opens with Tare’s voice softly whispering and lamenting “letters by/ yours truly” – we are led to assume this is a story of some lover of his, perhaps his “dear dear dear Khalana” he mentions in ‘The Purple Bottle’. A light drum beat and a guitar creep into the song, with the most superbly executed pitch change in their discography – remember them doing the right thing at the right time? This song typifies that perfectly. Tare’s lyrics in this song are consistently brilliant they are too many to show all, but here’s a pair of favourites:
“Someone in my dictionary is up to no good/
I could never find the very special words I should”
“Confusion’s not a kidney stone in my brain/
But if we’re miscommunicating do we feel the same?”
Tare manages to express feelings without ever actually having to say what he means. He does this perfectly in ‘The Purple Bottle’ as well – “Can I tell you that you are the purple in me” says so little, but so much.
‘Banshee Beat’ breaks into beautiful animalistic vocal coos that are so unique to the band. He manages to sound like a cute injured animal. His cooing fades away and soon only the pattering of the drums and thrum of the bass is left, and it never feels like it has been eight minutes.
This style of their songwriting continues into ‘Daffy Duck’, a song which seems to combine elements of ‘Bees’ and ‘Banshee Beat’. Tare’s voice rises out of repeating guitar strums and a low vibrating synth crafted by Deakin and Geologist who don’t really get enough credit for what they bring to the sound. His voice then drops into nothing and nearly all sound ceases but for the low throb to continue and guitars to pick up and raise his voice again, and again, and again. It closes with a lovely key change and reaches a climax before distorting and fading away into nothingness… only for it to be brought back one last time. AnCo’s patience exhibited superbly, and ‘Daffy Duck’ is a lovely and incredibly peaceful song, but one of the weakest on the album. That only serves to highlight the strength of the album overall.
‘Loch Raven’ begins to turn the record back to where it begun. Continuing to use pianos, Geologist adds a twinkly synth line complimented perfectly by Panda Bear’s thudding drums and backing vocals. The words are almost incomprehensible, Panda Bear’s choral vocals sound as if they are shouted into a wind tunnel while Tare whispers deeply, but they turn into just sounds anyway, supported by yelps from Deakin. ‘Loch Raven’ glides along like the waters it is dedicated to, an equally beautiful and peaceful song as its trio of predecessors but with a drum beat and structure that bring it closer to its more poppy brothers in the Feels family tree.
The closer brings the album full circle back to its pop rock sound. We emerge from the barrage of emotions and, yes, feels, of the last few songs and are back to the uplifting beat and major key of the opening tracks. ‘Turn Into Something’ is every bit a great pop rock track as ‘Did You See the Words’ and follows a similar structural pattern, with influences of ‘The Purple Bottle’s build up as well. However rather than reaching a climax as those songs did, this fades away into the ambience of calling voices and thrumming guitars with an echoing synth drone.
Feels is complete and brings with it a great sense of satisfaction. Listeners embark on a very personal musical journey headed by Avey Tare into one of his most personal albums. Most elements of AnCo’s music – certainly in 2005 – are explored, and there are hints of what is to come. There are pop rock songs that would fit into any situation and mournful ballads that can be empathised with and even bring a tear to the eye. A look into such personal topics for songwriting is sure to bring emotion, and the aptly named Feels has it in bounds.
Did You See the Words – 89%
Grass – 86%
Flesh Canoe – 78%
The Purple Bottle – 95%
Bees – 83%
Banshee Beat – 98%
Daffy Duck – 71%
Loch Raven – 84%
Turn Into Something – 88%
Overall Score – 85.7% - Exceptional
0-10% - Awful
10-20 – Incredibly poor
20-30 – Missable
30-40 – Below average
40-50 – Not great
50-60 – Average
60-70 – Better than average
70-80 – Good
80-85 – Very good
85-90 – Exceptional
90-95 – Must listen
95-100 – Seminal, masterpiece