Taking a risk makes room for the unexpected, allowing us to explore and experiment with unknown territory, facing new challenges, learning new things about our own selves. Artists accustomed to being labeled as experimental and known for playing against the rules feel compelling, exhilarating, and unafraid to mix sounds that feel both old and new.
That’s what the band, Animal Collective–whose sound has heavy influence on the architecture of what we now know of as indie rock–has set out to prove in newest album, Isn't It Now. After being separated from one another for quite some time, the four band members: Panda Bear, Deakin, Geologist, and Avey Tare, were perhaps motivated in the creation and completion of this album by being reunited once again.
The feeling of reunion is the shadow and the theme that lingers from start to finish is reminiscent of being back with your friends, which is exactly what the band did during the process of this album, attesting to the notion and feeling that Isn't It Now radiates. Their eagerness to put the record out is reflective in their sound, carrying a rush of nostalgia mixed with a strong longing to be in the present, as the album title suggests, reminding listeners of the past, yet feels lived-in.
The album opens with “Soul Capturer”, a welcome that makes us feel seen and comfortable to dabble in seduction and desire, and perhaps the more cynical side of life. That very thing that makes listeners feel as though they can take a deep, long breath – is also the one that brings realization to these exact vices. It’s captivating and hypnotizing, yet also takes us on an unknown and dangerous ride. It’s the perfect entrance into a journey made up of highs and lows, intellect and action, wise and young, and the beauty of the unknown that lives in between these moments. The juxtapositions compliment each other at such a level of ease, listeners can hear how communal the flows throughout the album are intended to be. The unique execution of all nine tracks proves that this band has set out to create a feeling that feeds the hungry mind – and although that mind may not know what is to come, it will continue to pioneer its way through a frontier that excites it.
Below, FLAUNT speaks with Animal Collective about the new project, friendship, and the modern world.
How do you create a space that encourages new ideas? Being in a band for several years together, how do you ensure you don’t fall into a routine with your sound and your creative process?
We always had the intention of this group having a lot of space built into it. Allowing for different pairings of us to get together when we were inspired to try different approaches. This is why in the early days we were not Animal Collective. We were just four individuals who wanted to make records that had individual personalities. The first Avey Tare and Panda Bear record is a very different thing from Campfire Songs (we didn’t even use the names Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Deakin for that one.) We still operate that way. Tangerine Reef is an Animal Collective record, but it’s kind of a different band than the one that did Time Skiffs and Isn’t It Now? We always intended to be more of a tight knit group that had a lot of different musical ways of expression than to be a band with a linear album output. In some ways we have become that band but in between Painting With and Time Skiffs you have solo records, the Tape Chants project that Dave and Brian have worked on, Tangerine Reef, a film score that Brian and I did called Crestone. All of these projects take different approaches. So this leaves space for people to be exploring new ideas both in and out of the “primary” Animal Collective records. We are also pretty intentional going into each new era of song writing to change things up. Different equipment and instrumentation or rules around what we will and will not let ourselves do.
Isn’t It Now? was completed in 12 days, yet has the longest running time out of all of your albums. How did that happen, and what did those 12 days look like for the band?
We were just so primed to be playing by the time we got to the Bunker (the studio we used in Brooklyn. Some of those songs had been in the mix since Dave and Brian and I had played them in New Orleans in 2018 at the Music Box Village. "Defeat," and "Magicians" especially. We had just worked on them a lot and played a good amount of live shows at that point. So when we started tracking it just kind of poured out. I think we actually were basically finished with tracking by day 8 or 9 with only a few straggling details.
Everything just clicked. Russ was incredible to work with and got such great sounds right off the bat. And we were just really tight. My memory of that time is near perfect. Just felt like everyone was locked in. Flow state was really high. Good energy all around. The length of the record owes something to the pandemic. We had written all of the songs on "Time Skiffs" and "Isn’t It Now?" with the exception of "Soul Capturer" by January of 2020 and were ready to go into the studio. Who knows how all of that music would have been released if the pandemic hadn’t happened. But we recorded "Time Skiffs" very much around the songs that we felt we could pull off to a click track remotely. Isn’t It Now? has the songs that we couldn’t get remotely. It doesn’t feel like a leftovers record to me though. It’s interesting how circumstances can force your hand and create a result that feels like it was how it should be. It just so happens that a few of those songs are really long. "Defeat" primarily at 22 minutes. And "Defeat" is probably the most important song for us of this entire era. It had to be the centerpiece of the record. It’s like the totem piece of music of everything that made for these last two records.
Songs like “Soul Capturer” call to different vices, and even to the poisonous nature of the Internet. Having founded Animal Collective before modern advancements of the Internet, how do you think musicians and the music industry have been affected?
What are the pros and cons of the digital world for young creative minds? I don’t know if I have the perspective on the pros and cons for young minds. Ask the young minds. Haha. I don’t know if we’ll be able to really analyze that for years to come. It’s easy to fall into the trope of being the old guy that remembers what it was like when the only way to hear music was on the radio, or to go spend limited money on a limited number of CDs or cassettes or LPs and then…you had bought that record…you better spend some time with it.
I remember records that I bought because it caught my eye, or a friend recommended, that I didn’t understand or like at first. And then, sometimes, even years later, I would try putting it on again cause it’s in my stack and suddenly get it and love it. So there was a patience that maybe has been lost? I’m guilty of it too. Someone suggests I check something out…I listen to the first three songs off a streaming platform…doesn’t grab me. Maybe I never go back to it. But surely too there is something incredible about having access to so much.
I guess I don’t think the algorithm side of things feels good to me. I worry that people are getting trapped in rooms that are the same color. Something to say for being compelled to explore on your own. To look for people that might turn you on to something new. To pull a record out of stack cause the cover catches your eye. Obviously that still all exists but I wonder if something is getting lost. But I am also sure something is getting gained. I think the most poisonous aspect of the internet to me is actually just the level of access...It becomes very hard to leave space to just sit with your thoughts for long.
If I want to know the answer to something, I look it up immediately. I love that Pete Holmes bit about google and the loss of “not knowing” something and how important that actually was. To be impregnated with the wonder of not knowing. or if I get on a Sun Ra kick… sometimes it feels exciting that have access to dozens for albums. But also kind of feels like a distraction that I don’t just go buy one and listen to that for three months before I get another.
What about Isn’t It Now? is particularly special for the group? Why is it different from the previous albums you’ve all made together?
The sound of this one is really special to me. Working with Russell Elevado was kind of a dream. He’s such a sweet person for one. But I think I have wanted to record a record that had this kind of all-analog band sound for a long time. The commitment to 100% analog recording and mixing is really palpable to me. It was clear to me within the first day of tracking that we were capturing sounds I was going to love. I love working in the digital realm. I use plugins all of the time. Incredible technology. But some of things we did in a pure analog way are just incredible sounding to me and I don’t think you can recreate with plugins. I also think that after what our experience was as a band with the pandemic and the way it felt like it almost took away our ability to do this. Forcing us to record Time Skiffs remotely...There was maybe a deeper sense of gratitude that we were back in a studio together working.
What did you all gain creatively or emotionally throughout the production of this album? Working together for about two decades, are there still things to learn about each other?
I think that all four of us are always growing. There’s something really special about collaborating with people you’ve been doing this with for almost 30 years. In some ways it is still the same as it was in highschool. There’s a level of familiarity and comfort that can lead to something that feels akin to a telepathic connection. But we also have so much that drives each of us individually. Personally, and as musicians, we are always bringing new things to the process that feel special and exciting and surprising. I felt like this whole era, going back to the music box performance in 2018 up through recording Isn’t It Now? had some new levels of trust in each other. Or maybe that's just me. Maybe I just trust myself more and I’m projecting that. I think maybe for me the thing that fulfills me the most…Or that I learned or feel surprised by is that we can still get into a room together and make things that feel like exploration to us. We did something right with the intention we had when we were young that I described earlier….No one is bored. It’s still fertile. It still feel remarkable and special to me.