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Animal Collective Trip Out in a Predictably Fun Way on ‘Time Skiffs’

The psychedelic crew Animal Collective have spent 20 years as the answer to the musical question “What if we actually were the signals in Brian Wilson’s brain?” The four animals (Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin, and Geologist), or some combination thereof, have built a bloodshot-eyed fanbase by cross-fading between psychedelic freak outs and solid, almost traditional pop craft, sometimes even jam-band danceable — see 2009’s still-thrilling Merriweather Post Pavilion LP or “Piggy Knows,” off of 2020’s otherwise obtuse Bridge to Quiet EP, which sported one of their most indelible hooks.

While they love blending squiggly drums and discomfiting noises in ever spacier ways, their home base has always been those extremely Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies, the human calm in their electrical storm. Their last audio-only studio album, 2016’s Painting With, tended towards the song-ish. After spending the next five years stretching out every which way (rubbery EPs, visual albums, and live records), their latest, Time Skiffs, is a gauzy nine-song ode to spacing out for just a damn minute and trying to banish the knot in one’s “This is 40” gut (literal and otherwise).

The weird years were not wasted time. Time Skiffs splits the difference between the pop and the avant, spaced-out family-pad music with solid drumming, deep-distance percussion, wobbly melodies, and harmonies somehow more blissed out than anything else. See also the single “Prester John,” which features the youth-coda line “was a good long run/With a world of good intentions by it.” Good night to the indie-rock era, indeed. On “Walker,” a delicate xylophone(?) melody urges you who are “goin’ through the motions” to “put the baggage down.” “Cherokee” (car, not person) cruises around the rural Mid-Atlantic, spacing out on synth squiggle and comfy bass, trying to figure out if an old dog can learn new tricks, or needs to.  

The legitimately gorgeous closer “Royal and Desire” reminds you that this is the perfect 21st-century companion to the Beach Boys’ “Feel Flows” box set, which dropped last August, a similarly trippy attempt to find psychedelic peace within the confines of encroaching middle age. Just thank them for not going full dad-joke and calling it Animal Reflective.

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