Feels is the second of what I see as the “big four” of AnCo’s discography; the four albums that would lead to them being seen as one of the 2000s greatest pop artists. It is also, strangely enough, the most overlooked of these four, at least in my experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sung Tongs and the albums following this one, but why does Feels always seem to be avoided when discussing AnCo’s greatest albums? Feels is, in my opinion, just as good as the albums surrounding it, and the unique sound that it brings makes it a worthwhile listen.
One thing that becomes immediately apparent when listening is the departure from the more homey, acoustic sounds of Sung Tongs. Sure, the campfirey feel is still there at parts, but many of the songs here are finally showing clear signs of AnCo’s journey into psychedelic pop. This difference is seen in every aspect of the album, but one that I find especially notable is in the general atmosphere. Something that made me love Sung Tongs so much is how the songs sounded like they were performed for a small audience in a small room; a very ‘personal’ feeling. Aside from a few moments, this feeling is all but gone on Feels; many of the songs sound much more “full”, with expansive production and much more than just acoustic guitars. In retrospect, this album might have been the biggest step so far in AnCo’s journey toward the sounds of Merriweather Post Pavilion. So how does this new, “more accessible” (debatable imo) direction in AnCo’s songwriting sound?
“Sleepy” is one word for it. I’ve fallen asleep to several Animal Collective albums, and this one is by far the best for it. Not to say that it’s boring! Feels’ production is unique in AnCo’s discography in that it is essentially never abrasive or loud. Pretty much all of their other albums, even Sung Tongs and MPP, had moments of experimental noise, but Feels’ experimentation dives more toward an ambient sound. This also leads me to seeing this as one of their most sonically consistent albums. Not every song sounds the same or even necessarily similar, but they all sound like they were performed around the same time and through the same microphones. It’s all so… soft! I would almost describe the sound as like being underwater. I kinda wish they would have tried this feeling for a few more albums, it’s really pleasing to hear, even if it can come off as slow to some.
The instrumentals here come essentially in two varieties: pop song and ambient. The two opening tracks, “Did You See The Words” and “Grass” sound almost radio-friendly, with very normal song structure and instrumentation. The key word here, of course, is “almost” - they still carry that wild, strange Animal Collective sound, and the smooth, watery feel of the album as a whole is of course present. Songs like “Bees” and “Loch Raven” show off the ambient side of Feels, sounding very loose and dreamy, similar to some sounds of Sung Tongs. As I said earlier, the instrumentals here are no longer just acoustic guitar and strange percussion; for the first time, some very normal, reverby electric guitar is used, and noticeable in many of the tracks. Some glimpses of electronic experimentation like is seen on Strawberry Jam also make appearances, albeit in a much more subtle fashion.
Going through the AnCo timeline, Feels has some of the best vocals so far. While there aren't many strange vocal experiments like in Strawberry Jam, Avey’s soft voice works perfectly with the sounds here. On “Daffy Duck”, his voice blends with the echoey guitar and ambient sounds in a way that makes it seem like its own instrument. “Grass” is one of the only songs here to showcase his screaming ability, which somehow also works well with the instrumental backing it. As far as lyrics go, there aren't a ton of notable moments, but nothing is really bad or generic, either. As I believe a few other reviews pointed out, there is a bit of a concept behind this album in that the first four songs or so contain references to love and happiness, then there is a dip into sadness and betrayal in a relationship, and it ultimately comes to a happy, optimistic view of the future. Really, I see the lyrics as not as important on this album (sorry, I know some people disagree), and the vocals more as an instrument to help with the album’s aesthetic as a whole. There is, however, one exception to this.
“Banshee Beat” is definitely my favorite song off this album, and one of my favorite AnCo songs ever. It combines the ambient and the poppy sounds of this album into one 8 minute story that contains some of the strongest emotions AnCo has shown off yet. This song is essentially a summary of the feelings on the ending half of the album, describing a person getting over being cheated on. And it conveys those emotions flawlessly. The movement from sad whispering to melancholy, quiet singing, to shouting out emotions is such a great journey to follow! This is, in my opinion, a song to cry to. It’s also a very unique album for how it handles the emotional and depressing topic it covers, and I love it for that. I can understand why some people might not like this album that much, but if you’re only going to listen to one song off of it, choose this one. Animal Collective’s songwriting is at its best here.
I’ll admit, Feels is not AnCo’s most experimental album, and it isn’t really their technical best (at least in my opinion). But there’s something about the sound that really clicks with me; the emotions conveyed in Feels are some of the strongest as of yet, and the smooth, dreamy sounds are incredibly pleasing to hear. It’s also a clear step toward the poppier sounds to come, and a great development from the sounds of Sung Tongs. Overall a great album. Highlights include the absolute banger that is “Grass” and listening to “Banshee Beat” while crying.
Favorite Songs: Did You See The Words, Grass, Bees, Banshee Beat, Daffy Duck, Turn Into Something
Least Favorite Songs: Flesh Canoe
Also I’d like to announce here that this is probably a temporary stopping point for the Animal Collective reviews. I’ll definitely come back and finish at some point, but there is so much other music I want to focus on, and other aoty ideas I want to try, that continuing work on this discog dive seems… daunting, I suppose. I mean, it’s taken me forever just to get halfway through, and the next two albums will probably take the longest to review. For now, AnCo discography dive is halted, but it will come back sometime. <3