Feb 5 2022

Album Review: Animal Collective – Time Skiffs

I was worried we had almost given up on Animal Collective.

After their magnum opus Merriwhether Post Pavilion, which brilliantly melded avant pop (and Panda Bear’s Brian Wilson dalliances) with the experimental side of the band’s previous work, they created a slight misstep: the sharp left turn into inaccessibility, Centipede Hz. After the underrated, but still somewhat underwhelming Painting With, Panda Bear retreated, leaving the remaining members on their own to produce a self-indulgent visual album about coral reefs (Tangerine Reef). They followed this with the inessential film score Crestone. Overall the 2010s were a prolonged journey into the weirder side of their sound. But while that side produced interesting albums earlier in their career, unfortunately in the following decade it had begun to sound like AnCo had lost their way.

I’m happy to report that Time Skiffs reunites the full group for one of the strongest albums of their career, and by far their best since 2009. Animal Collective sound completely rejuvenated and have a more mature, firmer grasp on their strengths individually and as a whole.

Opener “Dragon Slayer” locks the Collective back in step, featuring oddball rhythms, chimes, and sun-soaked harmonies. Those harmonies are even louder and more prominent on “Car Keys,” while lead single “Prester John” is a spaced-out trip in line with the band’s best work. The oddest song on the album, “Strung With Everything,” is a more subdued, toe-tapping approach to the experimental freak-folk tendencies we heard the group perfect in the mid-00s with albums like Feels and Strawberry Jam.

The band’s homage (though not really a musical one) to Scott Walker, aptly titled “Walker” is the album’s most pop-leaning moment, not unlike the band’s most known song, the blissful “My Girls” from Merriwhether Post Pavilion. This is the one that’s gonna make you dance; skittering percussion and a loping bassline accompany energetic xylophone hits and the group’s trademark layers of sunny vocals.

Things get almost outright jazzy on “Cherokee” before transforming into a wave of soaring synths and layered, echo-coated singing. The song is over seven minutes long, but contains none of the noodling that plagued much of Animal Collective’s previous work over the past several years. Things get more melodic and hypnotic on the slow-tempo tune “Passer-by,” while “We Go Back” is a swaying track destined to be a favorite at the band’s live shows.

Time Skiffs is everything longtime, patient AnCo fans were waiting for. The album is never boring, every song is distinct, the forays into ambiance don’t overstay their welcome. Animal Collective do here what they’ve always done best; they strike the right balance between atmosphere and melody, between the challenging and the beautiful. The group has taken a songs-first approach to Time Skiffs, and the result is nothing short of impressive. Who knew Animal Collective still had it in them?

Score: 8/10