Ryan Reed on October 30, 2023
From day one, Animal Collective have allowed themselves maximum breathing room and minimal pressure: Everyone in the psychedelic quartet has the freedom to exit and re enter without resentment, allowing space for families, solo careers and whatever else life might throw their way. Given that flexible framework, they were better equipped than any band to handle the uncertainty of the pandemic. Before The Great Pause, they’d already workshopped 20 sprawling tracks during a month-long stint in the countryside outside of Nashville—and they took advantage of their time off the road by pulling together 2022’s Time Skiffs, which culls the nine pieces most easily formed via click tracks and file-swapping. The other keepers from that Tennessee session make up a swiftly released sequel, Isn’t It Now? which is decidedly more free-form, often freakier, and usually dictated by the sweat and synergy of four humans in a room. Almost every Animal Collective LP introduces some new wrinkle: The Hi-Fi rhythms and punishing low end of Merriweather Post Pavilion, the proggy sugar-rush of Centipede Hz, the compact neon avant-pop of Painting With. There are two headline moves here—a jacked-up analog punch courtesy of producer Russell Elevado (D’Angelo, The Roots) and a more expansive reach into the jamminess they’ve toyed with in recent years. The real jaw-drop moments highlight all of the above: The collage-like trippiness of opener “Soul Capturer,” which concludes with a bricolage of woozy vocal sounds and thundering drums; the mid-song key-turn into a totally new pasture of psych-pop on “Genie’s Open;” and, most notably, the career triumph of “Defeat,” a 22-minute odyssey through every realm of cosmic sound imaginable.