edit: thank you all for 100 likes! <3
Growing up has been a recurring theme in Animal Collective’s music. From Spirit on, the band has created a handful of songs discussing the exciting and frightening aspects of this inevitable process - it’s terrifying to have to leave the comforts of being a child, but at the same time there’s so much more to do when you’ve grown up. I think that this process is something that I’ve watched going through AnCo’s discography, too; it’s been a fun, beautiful, and occasionally depressing trip listening to the many incredible albums the band has made, and this is the new endpoint - the moment where I have, for now, caught up to this band’s life.
I’ve split this review into three sections: a look at Animal Collective’s history leading up to this album, a review of each track, and my thoughts on the album as a whole.
[𝙇𝙚𝙖𝙙𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙪𝙥 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙖𝙡𝙗𝙪𝙢]
So first I want to take a look at what has led to Animal Collective becoming the band that they are. Something I find interesting about the group is how they slowly came together - their first album, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished was originally credited to just Avey Tare and Panda Bear. This is probably one of the reasons that it sounds so unique, even in this strange discography; AnCo’s first album immediately established their position in the experimental indie scene, and it also showed the then-pair’s potential musically. Of course, they would follow this wonder of a debut album with Danse Manatee, a project so strangely experimental that it made songs like “Spirit They’ve Vanished” and “Bat You’ll Fly” sound accessible. This one-upping in unexpectedness would become a trend in their album releases.
With the releases of their next two albums - Ark and Campfire Songs - Animal Collective would show off their abilities as a full band finally (welcome Deakin and Geologist!), and they would demonstrate more of their ever-changing sounds. Campfire Songs stands out to me especially as an all-stripped-down, cozy collection of live-recorded songs, some of which are some of the band’s most personal and emotional. But the biggest part of the band’s growth occurs over their next 4-album run, containing some of my favorite music of all time.
First comes Sung Tongs, which is arguably the band’s songwriting at a peak. Some of their first ‘accessible’ songs show up here, and each track seems like another journey into an emotional story. Following this is Feels! Feels is an album that grows on you; I think I’ve only liked it more upon each relisten. It’s one of their more consistently atmospheric projects, with the production and instrumentals on each track seeming to flow together into one melancholy feeling. Their next album, Strawberry Jam, is probably the biggest step they take toward the sounds they’ve continued with. The electronic, happy sounds of Strawberry Jam make it simply a joy to hear, and some of the songs on that album are masterpieces of pop songwriting. The last album of this run is their biggest and, in my opinion, best: Merriweather Post Pavilion. It’s hard to explain exactly what makes this album so perfect to listen to, but it is; the delightful instrumentals, the beautiful singing, and the amazing production, it all comes together in MPP to make an incredible album with that unique Animal Collective sound.
All that, in less than 10 years. Unfortunately, the 2010s were a somewhat slower decade for the band with them only releasing 3 studio albums. Centipede Hz was an energetic elaboration on some of the electronic sounds of MPP; a collection of fun songs that would end up being seen as disappointing… but how can you follow up the previous albums, really? 2016’s Painting With saw AnCo focus on creating cheerier, simpler pop songs in a less ambient or abrasive method than they had in the past. While the album had its higher points, it also seemed to further show the band distancing themselves from the amazing experimental music they had previously made. Their most recent studio album, Tangerine Reef, however, proved to me that they were still creating interesting music with the unique Animal Collective sound - the slow, ambient album did leave much to be desired, though.
And that’s… about caught up. In the four years since, the band has released some music in smaller projects, and teased songs that would come in their next album - this one. Time Skiffs is, oddly enough, arriving just in time for me to complete my listen-through of their discography. Almost exactly 1 year ago, I began my journey (seriously! I first heard Spirit on Feb. 8th of last year!), and over that year I’ve fallen in love with the many beautiful sounds of Animal Collective. I’ve watched the band’s own journey as they changed between experimental musical styles and created some of my favorite songs I’ve ever heard.
And now I’m finally listening to Time Skiffs, Animal Collective’s 12th studio album, and the most recent release in their musical career that spans over 2 decades. Here’s my thoughts.
[𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙨𝙤𝙣𝙜𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙏𝙞𝙢𝙚 𝙎𝙠𝙞𝙛𝙛𝙨]
I’m so happy! This album is everything I’ve wanted from the band, and it feels like a truly complete step in their ever-changing sound. There are comparisons that could be made to their previous works - the very relaxed sound is reminiscent of Merriweather Post Pavilion, and many of the odd, slower sounds remind me of Feels - but what makes this stand out is the feeling that the band has once again evolved. This music isn’t something that would fit with any of their previous music, but it’s still so clearly AnCo.
The album opens with some descending chimes, and it splashes into a relaxed, back-and-forth riff that introduces the beautiful first song that is “Dragon Slayer”. AnCo has always had incredible opening songs - tracks like “Leaf House” and “In The Flowers” do a great job at introducing the new sound of their respective albums - and “Dragon Slayer” is no exception to this. Indicative of the album to follow, this song is a relaxed, atmospheric piece, and it’s a joy to listen to. The melody gives off a feeling of carefree adventure; an idea reflected throughout this song. The vocals here are delicate and calming, and the singing in the chorus is a return to the band’s catchier tracks from the Strawberry Jam days. This opening song feels like a story joyfully recounted some time afterward, and the amazing chorus feels as if it’s encouraging me. It’s a perfect opening song in how it shows off so many aspects of this album; the hazy, splashing sounds and the playful riffs in the instrumental feel content and lively, and the singing is so genuine! It makes me happy just to hear it.
The next song, “Car Keys” is an exploration into some of the weirder sounds of Animal Collective at this point. Oh, something I want to add - I am in love with the sounds of percussion! This is a very percussive album; the drumming is soft but close, and the additional parts, like the marimba sounds in this song, add so much life. I love this track, and part of the reason why is the very ‘full’ sound it has - there are so many little bits in the background that make it feel as if the music always has something to say alongside the vocals. This song’s structure is also one of my favorites on the album; the verse is very relaxing and fun, and the pre-chorus(?) part is another little Animal Collective chant that gets caught in my head so easily, I can imagine myself shouting it at a concert of theirs. And then the chorus! It’s a beautiful back-and-forth of powerful, descending vocals and lighter, whispered additions. Each part of this song works so perfectly! The last third or so of the song is a fitting ending - in typical AnCo fashion, it’s an instrumental that allows various aspects of the song to fall away, carried on largely through the percussion that… sounds a little like car keys. This song should have been one of the singles, it’s just a perfect example of the sound of Time Skiffs.
The next three songs are the three that actually came out as singles, though, and I can’t complain that they were. “Prester John” is up first, and I can see why they chose it as the first single. The song is very ‘Animal Collective’; its sounds evoke images of peaceful nature, with the soft percussion and the watery details in the instrumental allowing the simple but delightful riffs to float in. The vocals here are also representative of this new album - the light, melodic singing creates the calm atmosphere that fills the first half of this song. Halfway through, though, we get a change into a more powerful, but still dreamy, bridge. “Prester John is breaking down” The music here does a great job at reflecting the lyrics- in contrast to the softer sounds earlier, the instrumental solidifies here and continues to strengthen with each repetition of the vocals. This part of the song parallels the story told in the lyrics too, as the repeating vocals and the smashing instrumental seem symbolic of an emotional breakdown. And then this song, too, slowly moves out, with an ending of near-ambient noise. It’s like a semi-quiet to complement the outbursts before.
Next is “Strung With Everything”! The opening reminds me of the ambient parts of Feels and MPP, with light synths that fade in and out, and with strange percussion occupying the background. A mysterious little melody breaks through this, and it ushers in some busier percussion along with the rest of this song. It’s a more put-together sound with some vocals that sound so much like earlier AnCo! This song is yet another development in the more relaxed, splashy sound of this album. The pre-chorus part is a change, and an opening to the amazing chorus. “The sun’s no better off lately!” The best part of “Strung With Everything”, though, comes after the second chorus - the ending to the song is the closest an AnCo song has come to Strawberry Jam ever since. The on-and-off instrumental combined with the shouted vocals is just packed with emotion and fun; it has a personality that really is like that of “Peacebone” or “Fireworks”. The energy contained in that last stretch is incredible; I agree that this is one of the band’s greatest songs in a while.
Then there’s “Walker” - this song sounds much closer to the first two songs on the album, with a very laid-back, calm atmosphere. This track also utilizes mallet percussion in a great way, giving the music a very fun and lighthearted feeling. This is one of the shorter songs on the album, but the band packs a lot into the few minutes here; the pulsing guitar and the wonderful vocals give this song life through its first two thirds. The ending is another moment in the music where it feels like the atmosphere this album creates temporarily leaves. I love the strange little part at the end; it’s like a moment of lucidity amongst the other dreamy sounds of the album.
The next song, “Cherokee”, is the longest track on the album, and it’s another musical journey like “Prester John”. It opens with an ambient, watery sound, which is something that seems to be a theme in this album. The lighter but faster instrumental then fades in, and it’s such a peaceful song! The whispery vocals give it a sense of mischief or excitement as it continues - this is like a nighttime song; the sparse instrumental and the light singing of strange lyrics remind me of the calmer parts of MPP, an album that seemed to be packed with a nighttime mood. About halfway through, there’s a change - the music briefly cuts out, and then it returns in repetitive, echoey singing over a beat that continues to add more to itself as the song continues. I love this part so much - it’s like walking around at night, as the emotions and events strengthen around me. It cuts back to the earlier part, and Tom Hanks is mentioned - the bouncy instrumental carries on, then fades back to ambient sound. This song is probably my favorite on the album; the powerful building in the middle is a highlight, and the overall calm but delighted emotion in this track infects me every time. This song alone is really proof that the band is just as strong as they’ve always been.
The next track, “Passer-by”, continues this more relaxed vibe with a slower, drifting feeling. The music here is very reverby and full, and the vocals are sweet and emotional; this first half could be a song that plays during a slow dance scene. This takes a turn about halfway through, though - the second half here shows a buildup of powerful sound underneath the mysterious vocals. This is something that makes the songs of Time Skiffs sound so dreamlike - the buildups of calmer sounds create a sleepy but adventurous atmosphere. The song ends with a chanted, “Thank you passer-by”. A great ending - I could fall asleep now.
But I’d be woken up by the soothing alarm-y sounds of “We Go Back” - the fourth single, released just a few days before the album’s release. The instrumental aspects of this song are great; the little melody playing throughout the song is great. But, of course, the ‘biggest’ aspect of the song is the vocals. There’s weird vocal effects!!! The band has done vocal experimentation like this before to varying success. Songs like “#1” have utilized electronic manipulation of the voice to create a specific emotional aura, whereas “Whaddit I Done” is an ending song rather infamous for its weird noises. Here, it works great. This track is a shorter one with a more excited, jumpy feeling about it, and the occasional interruptions of strange sound effects on the vocals really adds to the song. This song is awesome in general - looking at how it sounds compared to the last two songs, it’s cool to see how this album has so many of the different ‘AnCo sounds’.
Time Skiffs ends with “Royal and Desire” which, despite the amazing atmospheres on many of the earlier tracks, ends up being the calmest song here, ending the album in a peaceful bliss. Every part of the music sounds like it’s being played underwater, and the vocals sound as if they’re coming from a speaker in an empty train station. Wow, I hadn’t realized how much I love the sound of this one. Dreamy sounds and imagery are something that AnCo has done perfectly in the past, and I think they manage it again here. If you’ve ever imagined yourself to be listening to some old song in an empty place, thinking of happy memories - that’s this song. The entire track is covered in a hazy film, and every instrument is being played in the back of my mind. It’s beautiful, really. It’s almost like a lullaby. That one climax in the vocals - it’s just perfect. I am being completely honest when I say that this might be AnCo’s second best ending track ever. It brings all of the incredible sounds of Time Skiffs to a close. What a way to go out.
[𝙈𝙮 𝙩𝙝𝙤𝙪𝙜𝙝𝙩𝙨 𝙤𝙣 𝙏𝙞𝙢𝙚 𝙎𝙠𝙞𝙛𝙛𝙨 𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙖𝙡𝙡]
I want to say that “with Time Skiffs, Animal Collective have cemented their place as one of the most consistently great pop bands of all time”… but being totally honest, they did that albums ago. Time Skiffs is yet another hit on top of their already incredible discography. The band’s ability to so often reinvent their sound to create an album that captures a feeling like no other is what is shown off in Time Skiffs; having existed for so many years, being able to create this original of a record is an accomplishment.
I think that the key aspect of what makes Time Skiffs tick (get it? like time?) is its amazingly consistent chill atmosphere. While many of the songs sound completely different from others here, one thing that can be said about the entire album is that it is peaceful. It’s relaxing! This is done through nearly everything that went into the music - the soft, freely-played synths and drums contributed, as did the quiet but powerful vocals and the remarkable production. This album isn’t relaxing in the same way that Tangerine Reef is, though; Time Skiffs is so calm in the way that it just exudes happiness and love. Sure, not all of the songs here are necessarily happy in topic, but the amount of care put into each track, making every moment sound perfect with the others… that’s what makes me smile hearing this.
While I really do enjoy this album as a whole, I do admit there are parts of it that especially stick with me. I’ve mentioned it before, but… the percussion is so good here!!!! Of course, the band has always benefited from Panda Bear’s drumming ability, but the attention to detail in the drums and the rhythms here - it’s just amazing. The drumming on tracks like “Cherokee” is really what carries the emotion that makes those songs so lovely. It’s light, energetic, and driving, and the character it brings is just wonderful. It’s more than just the drumming, though - many of the tracks here use the simple sounds of mallet instruments like a marimba or bells, and these fun sounds alone add a new level of life to the music. There’s really not much to dislike in this album. It’s another example of AnCo putting everything they have into making a project that is simply beautiful on all fronts.
Time Skiffs does contain aspects of many of the previous Animal Collective albums, but it manages to sound like a collection of totally new ideas nonetheless. I think that part of this is the band having ‘grown up’ in a sense; like the topic of many of their songs, AnCo has developed and learned over their many years of existence. I’m not saying that Time Skiffs is better than their earlier works; rather, I see Time Skiffs as the result of those albums and the experiences they put the band through. Having experimented with abrasive noise, ambient folk, psychedelic pop, and so many other musical ideas, they’ve put everything they’ve learned from it all into this album. Time Skiffs is rich with the memorable and delightful personality of the band’s history, and this is much of what makes me love it so much - it’s the product of a band having grown up in their music over the last 20 years, determined to continue loving what they do.
Time Skiffs is another amazing album by Animal Collective. It’s not their best, and it’s not their most experimental; it’s just a relaxing, atmospheric album that is bliss to listen to. I can feel that the band put their all into making this beautiful music, and near every moment of it just makes me want to smile. I would definitely say that this is their best album since MPP. It is also only making me fall further in love with this band; I can’t wait to see what comes next for them.
This is art, and it’s the brightest possible ending to my Animal Collective discography dive I could’ve possibly wanted. Listening through all of their music has been incredible; I’m so glad I took the time to hear it all. Thank you to the band for making so many wonderful albums. Please never stop. <3
Favorite Songs: Dragon Slayer, Car Keys, Prester John, Strung With Everything, Cherokee, Royal and Desire
Least Favorite Songs: N/A