After years of performing unreleased music, Animal Collective returns with ‘Isn’t It Now?’, an introspective journey on the human circumstance of complacency that begs the question: ‘If it isn’t now, then when?’
Stream: ‘Isn’t It Now?’ – Animal Collective
The ever-morphing Animal Collective marks the next phase in their evolution with Isn’t It Now?, another thoughtfully composed voyage of psychedelic sound. Released on September 28th via Domino, it’s the group’s twelfth studio album and their longest project, with a runtime of 64 minutes. Following not long after 2022’s Time Skiff, Isn’t It Now? sees the full band of Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Geologist (Brian Weitz), and Deakin (Josh Dibb) together once again.
From childhood friends in Baltimore, Maryland to now a geographically isolated group, Animal Collective has remained cohesive if somewhat sonically chaotic, releasing projects for over twenty years While their individual contributions have varied among their discography and their sound a constant metamorphosis, they continuously craft experiential experimental music.
In 2019, the group spent a month in rural Tennessee forming the mold for what became their next two LPs. The state of the COVID-19 pandemic would go on to determine which albums would house the twenty-plus songs they drafted, unifying Isn’t It Now? and Time Skiff in a respect rarely seen between consecutive projects.
So do some of the songs sound familiar? The answer is, “yes.” Almost all the tracks from Isn’t It Now? were performed during their 2022 tour. Despite the familiarity, Isn’t It Now? as a standalone feature still feels fresh. It’s a journey of introspection. Concocting sounds that force listeners to travel to a different realm in order to contemplate their complacency with the state of the world, with topics ranging from the Digital Age, capitalism, global warming, and the lives we live in between.
The album opens with “Soul Capturer,” an examination of the world through the Digital Age. The track manages to convey the complex relationship humans have with technology so sufficiently the band’s record label has described the song as an “anthem for our existential online malaise.” As opposed to communicating overt digital disdain, an internet entity is fabricated in the form of the “Soul Capturer.” The narrator refers to the “Soul Capturer” in an almost endearing tone and if the words were to be removed, the song would sound even more upbeat due to its lively percussion. The bright ambiance is only bolstered by the looping employed, an essential element to Animal Collective’s music in order to produce a mesmerizing effect.
Accompanied by lyrics like “Soul Capturer feeds off your dreaming, Soul Capturer watching through your eyes” and then later “keeps you trying, Soul Capturer always leaves your dry.” The track operates under a kind of circular reasoning that always brings the listener back online to the Soul Capturer.
After examining the implications of the Digital Age, the songs that follow offer a portal to a new reality, a place of reflection that is notably absent of online distraction.
The hypnotic pull of tracks two and three demonstrate this isolation by replicating the feeling of going underwater. “Genie’s Open” is characterized by arpeggiators throughout the first half of the recording, creating anticipation as the water rises. Then, full submersion comes with “Broke Zodiac” as bubbly synths flood the senses. The first third of the album easily meshes together, as the tracks and themes follow each other fluidly.
The journey of introspection is interrupted by an homage to the group’s hometown of Baltimore in “Magicians From Baltimore.” Whirring and fuzzy guitars take the group back to their psychedelic rock roots as they dwell on the growing pains begging to be taken “somewhere new” as they reluctantly admit: “But I just stopped growing in Baltimore.”
Vibrating synths, rattling drums, and existentially resonant themes cue the resuming of contemplation with “Defeat,” “Gem & I,” and “All The Clubs Are Broken.” The frenetic basslines and xylophone-like pads of “Gem & I” produce a hallucinatory beach day, a vibe that has equated Animal Collective’s sound to the Beach Boys for years.
Meanwhile, “All The Clubs Are Broken” is more reminiscent of The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour with its haunting, omniscient vocals that repeat: “Everyone’s a 9-to-5.” It’s an eerie commentary on humans’ commitment to capitalism – an addiction just as all-consuming as the internet, and equally as time-consuming.
The true standout of the album is “Stride Rite,” an emotionally and instrumentally distinct lullaby that sets it apart from the other tracks on the album. Swapping their usual electronic sound collages for floating piano and minimalism presents a delicate ballad expressing life through loss: “Loss one to cancer, two to sorrow, three by losing patience with the people who we are.”
Vulnerable, ruminative poetic lyricism allows for a simple yet poignant soundscape. While the content matter may be mournful, the song itself occupies a position of reflection rather than regret: “Ride the rise and fall of love’s repeating answer to the quest of our extraordinary lives.”
What then follows is a less than seamless transition to the closing piece, “King’s Walk.” The final destination of this meditative trip brings us back to reality, but one that is post-apocalyptic. The band harmonizes deep elongated hums under Avey Tare’s proclamations of the world “getting cooked” as we “hold hands” and watch. It’s a dark and somber note to end on, yet one that becomes progressively accurate with time.
Isn’t It Now? cements itself as one of Animal Collective’s most relevant projects as it engages with the problem of human complacency.
Contentment for the now despite its issues, has allowed for a tendency of complacency. When instead we should be asking if it isn’t now, then when?
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© Hisham Akira Bharoocha
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