Ah, the ever-unpredictable world of Animal Collective. The band’s 2009 album ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ spawned innumerable sub-genres, a softly influential psych-pop song cycle that proved to have enduring impact. The ever-evolving group then switched into a different gear, the difficult, live-sounding follow-up ‘Centipede Hz’ too difficult for some to swallow.
Last year’s excellent full length ‘Time Skiffs’ was widely hailed as their Best-Since-Merriweather, a critical trope that worked because, well, it was kinda true. Easy on the ear and thoroughly bewitching, attempts to tour the record immediately hit rocks due to economic issues. Heading back to the studio, AnCo spun the dials once more… but would lightning strike twice?
As it turns out, ‘Isn’t It Now?’ is definitely a left turn, but it shouldn’t alienate those who fell for its predecessor. ‘Soul Capturer’ is an intoxicating opener, retaining the full band focus of ‘Time Skiffs’ but skewing it slightly, moving into uneasy realms. ‘Genie’s Open’ is a full throttle surge into the unknown, while petite, minute gems such as ‘Broke Zodiac’ and ‘Gem & I’ illustrate Animal Collective’s melodic instincts.
It’s the 20-minute leviathan ‘Defeat’ that takes centre-stage. On first listen it’s bewildering, an undulating centipedal structure meshing together several different songs and ideas. Patchwork but somehow unified, repeated listens reveal tiny details that meld it together, small hallmarks that repeat and then fade; near echoes that paint out a broader skeletal structure beneath its huge weight.
Packed with ideas and energy, ‘Isn’t It Now?’ continues the current creative high point within Animal Collective. Shorn of live duties, they’ve turned that energy back into the studio – it’s notable that despite their myriad offshoots and side hustles, both this album and its predecessor utilise the same cast. A distinctive, nigh-on unique listen, ‘Isn’t It Now?’ is a fine experimental broth for Autumn listens.
Words: Robin Murray