Essential New Music: Animal Collective’s “Time Skiffs”

Compared to the late 2000s and early 2010s, indie-rock album cycles have felt more like meeting up with old high-school buddies than listening to provocative or innovative new music. “We should do this again soon!” you say, but a mortgage and/or a kid later—and before you know it, half a decade has passed. 

Such is the case with Animal Collective. The quartet’s last LP, 2016’s Painting With, felt stifled and cold. Ironic, as it was recorded at the legendary EastWest Studios in Hollywood, where records of presence and space—like Pet Sounds—were made. But six years later (almost to the day), Animal Collective has returned with an album created with the same spirit of its early, embryonic output that made so many fall in love with the band. 

Perhaps it’s best to think of Time Skiffs as Animal Collective’s best impression of a typical rock band. The gorgeous, moving, deeply beautiful “Royal And Desire” closes the nine-track album with a feeling of resignation that could only be afforded by the events of the last two years. Like a heavy rain, the saxophones wash over the listener, and the song peacefully lands on Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox’s steady 3/4 beat. “Royal And Desire” is certainly a far cry from the energy of 2004’s “We Tigers” or 2005’s “The Purple Bottle,” but it’s one of the best drum sounds that Lennox has ever put to tape.

One of the strengths of Time Skiffs is that it sounds great at a conversational volume, so it might be a good re-entry point for folks who lost track of the band for a few years. Animal Collective’s longtime fans are no longer listening to a leaked copy of Feels in the backseat of a friend’s car. They’re hosting dinner parties, where the music that used to piss off their parents is generally unwelcome. Their drives to and from work are likely soundtracked by “Baby Shark” or conference calls, so it’s hard to imagine a song like 2007’s “Winter Wonder Land” skating by without protest.

Perhaps it’s that Time Skiffs comes on the heels of the release of The Beatles: Get Back, but the record feels like a return to form. Animal Collective wears its early Beach Boy comparisons on its sleeve with tracks like “Prester John” and “Dragon Slayer.” The vignettes that the band often employed and expanded in its live sets and on aughts classics like “Chores” and “Daily Routine” are back as well. All of this makes sense until you remember that Animal Collective never really had a “form” to begin with. Regardless, the quartet has crafted a record that ferments and evolves into some of the best musical moments it has ever had.

Time Skiffs might turn out to be the album that many fans reach for to introduce new listeners to Animal Collective. Time will tell. Regardless, Time Skiffs is a very good visit with old friends. Let’s hope it’s not another six years until we meet up again.

—Jacob Paul Nielsen