Albums of the Aughts: Animal Collective’s Feels

The first time I heard the opening track off of Animal Collective’s Feels, “Did You See the Words,” I felt almost sick. It had been sent to me on the web from one of my more eccentric friends around my junior year of high school, along with a message reading, “Dude, check this out. I’ve never heard anything like it,” or something along those lines. I was as baffled as he was.
On first listen, questions like, “Why are there these swooping, gleeful vocals that make you feel like you just came down a rollercoaster and left your stomach up top?” and “Why would you ever want to create vocals like that,” came to mind. I gave up listening to the album for months, but would come back to it every once in awhile. Although offbeat, there was something really rare and fresh about these guys, something that through all the droning, meandering guitar and yelping vocals was quite enchanting. I’m not sure when I stopped being weirded-out and started genuinely loving Feels, but by my freshman year in college I was countless nights putting on my headphones and listening all the way through before falling asleep, letting the lull of these lucid, bordering on violent, but never harsh songs take me somewhere else.
The secret to Feels wonderful charm is in its totally shameless childishness. You hear Avey Tare whisper lyrics like: “What you need is a happy farm, with happy goats and sheep,” and wonder if perhaps he wrote this song when he was five years old. But, then you here the next line: “What I need is a happy arm, to swing you round like father,” and it seems there is something a little more mature to this. What sounds childish becomes more and more complicated the harder you listen. Similarly, after watching YouTube videos of “The Purple Bottle” live until my eyes hurt, I still couldn’t for the life of me (and still can’t) figure out how Noah Lennox, or Panda Bear, was sticking the rhythm on the simple floor-tom, snare and crash set-up he used at the time. To me, the beat sounded simple, repetitive and unhinged, and yet, like much of AC’s work, was too complex or bizarre to imitate.
Avey, Panda, Geologist and Deakin are able to take the adolescent, the absurd and the weird, and alchemically transform it into beautiful, powerful and honest music — and it’s perhaps very significant then that the four of them were all at some point friends while growing up as well. Sometimes it seems you are actually listening to all of the mixed up perceptions, happiness and confusion of youth. If you could run a slideshow of corresponding images or experiences while listening to Feels (or just close your eyes), you might feel like you’re riding a bike for the first time, just tasted a new kind of food, dipped your feet into a pool, or are having generally any new experience perceived for the first time or in a new way. The album as a whole is a whirlpool of emotions and, well, “feels” that can take you back to a time when the world seemed a lot newer and more innocent. For the truly young and wild and in spirit, it’s a masterpiece.

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