Animal Collective’s latest release, Time Skiffs, is an explorative-yet-accessible album that finds the ensemble at their most copasetic in over a decade. 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was a critically acclaimed masterpiece that built upon the success of 2007’s Strawberry Jam and established them as an act with a generational ability to bring honey-sweet harmonies to the most abstract corners of the modern soundscape.
Their follow-up to Merriweather, 2012’s Centipede Hz, took a hard left turn and went off in a harsher direction more akin to their earlier works and in the process, disappointed a large swath of their new audience. On the other side of the coin, 2016’s Painting With was a very deliberate attempt at making a pop album in a Verse/Chorus/Verse format. What’s so exciting about Time Skiffs is the sense that Animal Collective has finally found a landing pad where they can be themselves and give Merriweather the follow-up it deserves.
Time Skiffs features plush harmonies layered over deliberately textured instrumental tracks but where Merriweather was built on the back of Synths, Samplers and Sequencers, Time Skiffs’ instrumentation is immediately more organic. Deakin’s bass thumps along with Panda Bear’s drum beats to provide us with a rhythm section that ignores expectations of what a bass/drum combo is supposed to contribute to a quartet.
Over the drums and bass, Avey Tare’s keyboards and guitar cover lead while Geologist electronically augments their signals to give the tracks the groups trademark off-kilter sonic texture. Geologist stays busy using his Kaoss Pad to blast guitar and bass tracks into the psychedelic stratosphere, yet while these songs benefit from his augmentation, they aren’t entirely reliant on it.
The album’s highlight is “Cherokee,” an almost eight-minute epic that takes the listener through a roof-down convertible ride through Alice’s Wonderland with an easy breeze keeping you calm as you take in the continuously expanding pallet of transonic mass flowing out your speakers
Time Skiffs closes with a song called “Royale and Desire” that brings the listener back to earth with a meditative experience that navigates you back from the almost-altered state this album has the power cast.
Animal Collective’s latest release is a singular artistic accomplishment that needs to be heard from start to finish to process, and even then, it continues to show you something new every time you give it another spin. Its obvious replay value hints at the kind of staying power required of truly great albums and while it’s unlikely to dethrone Merriweather Post Pavilion’s status as their greatest album, it is without question the elite artistic accomplishment the world has been waiting for in a spiritual successor.