What is experience? Is it the our queer bags of flesh sloshing through varying degrees of water vapor and solidity in search of other bags of flesh with which to kill or eat or couple and make bouncy bouncy happiness? Is it the mind's perpetual game of Stratego with The Creator, one that we will never win because The Creator cheats? Or are the Darwinists right and our existence is a crap shoot of cosmic proportions and we are one bad roll away from having become some other configuration - say a tulip or a quasar? Are these questions the nature of existence itself, and that existence is not a noun but a verb? I was once a college sophomore and was equipped to attempt filling in these blanks, but my Quixote days are long past me . Instead, I'm rather content to be along for the ride, escorting the Buddha on his daily jog, protecting him from any undue demise because that would mean I'd hit the end of my road, finding enlightenment in death, or something like that. Experience is not a tidy little clockwork, its a tangly organic mess, forming patternless patterns by just doin its thing, man.
I will not pretend to speak for the Brooklyn techno-hippie Animal Collective members that go by the monikers of Avery Tare, The Geologist or Panda Bear (because we can barely describe our own experiences, much less those of others), but I suspect these cats see the world through a similarly fractured lens. The shimmering, stuttering wondrous music this group presents on earlier releases and hereon their current album Feels, points to this. Tare's vocals, whispery and hazy, drift on the wind, sometimes with a breeze like on the sublimely wavering drone of "Daffy Duck" or as a gale force of Life Power like on the wild "Purple Bottle," the best recontextualization of marching band dynamics since Tusk. The album opens with "Did You See The Words" which finds the group in full throated pop mode, and they sound downright playfully dangerous on "Grass." The thing I love about this group is how wild they sound, not just by the inclusion of natural sounds, and groovy post Beach Boys harmonies, but by how gleefully unhinged they can be. Its like they are out in the yard spinning as fast as they can until they collapse.
And their collapse is equally spectacular. "Flesh Canoe" gets you cascading down the cliffs of Sleep. Its what I imagine an out of body experience might sound. On their heavily tremoloed and reverbed production style, you think you can hear the exact instrumentation, but then the deeper you dig, the more you, uh, unearth. While I think this album doesn't have the same consistency than the near-perfect Sung Tongs of last year, or their EP with was-then-is-now it-woman Vashti Bunyan earlier this year, this may be a better, more exciting record. The harmonies are more dense and convoluted and frankly prettier here, particularly the fugue state engaged in the middle section of "Purple Bottle." The track most lovely on this record is "Banshee Beat" which just shakes and twinkles around Tare's cracking falsetto, like looking up to the sun through the trees from a passing car. It picks me up by my feet and swings me around and lets go, tossing me into the open maw or eternity. The latter half of this record has such a sedative effect to it that the finally carnival-ride-off-its-moorings "Turn Into Something" knocks you awake again with its sheer amok wonder. And I'm not saying that Animal Collective has somehow transcended from becoming Nirvana to achieving that original Nirvana with the virgins and the gold and the rainbows of happiness and all, but the physical shiver and distance in their work might just give you a taste of what enlightenment and true experience might feel like.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com