Animal Collective’s 12th studio album, Isn’t It Now?, takes the listener on a journey that’s somehow retrospective and pioneering at the same time. It manages the testy task of balancing the band’s nostalgic roots with a current flair.
That being said, it’s extremely difficult to pin down Animal Collective’s sound. We’re 23 years on from their debut album, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’re Vanished, and even back then, the band blended elements of indie rock, psychedelic, electronic, and folk music. Their sound is a melting pot of creativity, often featuring unconventional instruments and complex harmonies.
Produced by Russell Elevado – renowned for his collaborations with D’Angelo and Kamasi Washington – Isn’t It Now?'s backbone is the live instrumentals, a welcome nod to the Collective’s recent trajectory and a confident push by the band to show off their musicality.
A look at any individual tracks must begin with the band’s brand new magnum opus, ‘Defeat’. It’s 22 minutes long. Twenty-two minutes. You can’t really call that a song. Instead, it’s best termed as a sonic expedition that serves as the album’s cornerstone, sandwiched right in the middle of the record. It’s a carefully constructed symphony ripe with emotional licks and White Album/’Revolution 9′ flourishes. Rather than exhaust, it enlivens with its generous layering, reaching a calmness through each cycle.
‘Magicians from Baltimore’ confirms Animal Collective’s knack for storytelling. The song feels like a prolonged, waking daydream, punctuated by Panda Bear’s well-placed percussion. With ‘Stride Rite’, the band lays bare its soul on a grand piano, allowing for an intimate close-up that feels raw and real.
And then we arrive at ‘Gem & I’. In stark contrast to the introspective tracks preceding it, this song unfurls as an ode to strength and youthful vitality. Its propelling rhythm and hook flirts with pop sensibilities while remaining decidedly within the Collective’s character. In doing so, it wraps up nicely the album’s theme: a celebration of life in all its mystery.
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Isn’t It Now? runs for 64 minutes but is commendably devoid of filler. Not many bands can do that, and perhaps Elevado deserves great credit here. Every track is a cog in a giant machine, a testament to Animal Collective’s enduring commitment to advancing their sound. The Baltimore quartet have managed to sidestep complacency, offering an album that feels comfortable and fresh.
With Isn’t It Now? Animal Collective once again establish that they are far from has-beens. They are troubadours of contemporary music’s ever-changing, continually mesmerising landscape.
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