"I suppose it is a kind of folk music for us because it's a representation of our own personal community and outlook on life, but I never see it as being in line with other kinds of sounds." So says Avey Tare (AKA Dave Portner), multi-instrumentalist and singer for Animal Collective—about the current media trend that dubiously includes his Brooklyn-based band under the "new folk revival" banner—a media-manufactured construct that includes vaguely related artists such as Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, and Iron and Wine. "In some ways I think it's just a construction that we were thrown into because we made a record with acoustic guitars," he says.

Sponsored

It's hardly just acoustic guitars that are in the multilayered mix of Animal Collective's seventh release, Feels (Fat Cat Records). Shaped by Seattle producer and Climax Golden Twins member Scott Colburn, the record's nine songs are created with an intricate arsenal of sounds: splashy, unpredictable percussion, vocals that alternate between childlike yelps and contemplative warbles, soft washes of autoharp (though due to the lack of liner notes, you could be forgiven for thinking that it's actually a harpsichord), shimmering cascades of piano (courtesy of Múm's Kristin Valtysdottir), and twinkling electronics that chirp and flutter like insects with Red Bull running through their veins. Basically, Feels is the sort of strange and scrupulously composed record that you can imagine Radiohead's Thom Yorke or the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne both admiring and envying—and that some listeners might find more cumbersome than transportive. Regardless of how it hits the sonic palate, it's impossible not to be impressed by the sense of discipline and forethought it must take to commit something this ambitious to tape.

"With this record, it was the longest we've ever worked on writing songs—we worked on them for over a year," Portner confirms. "But we do most of the production before we go into the studio because we're usually pretty set on having the record sound the way we want it to sound. Scott was really good at helping us move forward, judging how much time we had. He organized it all really well."

Colburn's musical proclivities made him the ideal choice as a producer, a role he obtained after years of e-mail correspondence with Collective members Geologist (AKA Brian Weitz) and Panda Bear (AKA Noah Lennox) through the website for his Gravel Voice studio in Ballard.

"After I mentioned by affinity for ELO, the deal was sealed and they showed up on my doorstep March 1, 2005," says Colburn, only half-joking. It's clear that he was grateful for their preparedness and professionalism. "Their work ethic was a model for every band out there to follow. We recorded eight hours a day for 30 days straight. The great thing about this schedule is that we could concentrate on music for a regular day and then hang out and relax for eight hours, too, and get good sleep. So it was record all day, watch psychotronic films at night."

Support The Stranger

Though the analog recording was done on Colburn's 16-track (and later dumped into digital format for overdubs), Animal Collective's fondness for rich layers of sound meant further multitracking throughout the record—some songs ended up with as many as 100 tracks. "[Scott's] policy is to get a band to sound the way they think they sound live," explains Portner. "We went a little further than just sounding live on this record, obviously," he says, laughing, "which I think is cool. But we always tend to do that—go a little overboard."

Despite those compositional complexities, the Collective's members are wise enough to keep the basic structures of the songs flexible enough so that each show gets a unique stamp, depending on the mood that strikes them. "Everything's written pretty loosely so we can have the freedom to change things onstage and we'll vibe off how the crowd is reacting. I think it's good to have the song's energy build onstage when you're playing live because that's where our energy comes from a lot of the time."

hlevin@thestranger.com

Sponsored
Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.