Time Skiffs is the ideal type of reunion album.
Catching up with old acquaintances, no matter how close they once were, can be a daunting proposition. More often than not, these types of long-distance reunions can serve to confirm why initial dissociation occurred in the first place: that this individual standing right before you, previously a friend or confidant, has, for better or worse, irreversibly changed over time, where they’ll never again be the exact same person you grew apart from. They may even now hate this older version of themselves that you’ve clung to, perhaps seeing you as a reminder of the person they refused to be their entire lives. To bring this sentiment full circle, they also, more than likely, dislike the person you’ve become in the interim; and they have every right, as reciprocity is baked into such interpersonal dynamics. So these two former associates now see each other as complete strangers in this moment, mere passersby on the street; when you haven’t spoken to someone in a while, there’s a lot of realizations that can come rushing in when you once again do.
Keeping this in mind, the prospect of “chatting it up” with Animal Collective again after a turbulent decade of left-field experiments — this writer’s particularly fond of the supercharged, volatile melodies and hyperactive vocal trade-offs from 2016’s Painting With — and half-baked auditory concepts (another “visual album” that was as disposable as their last) about a record that’s supposedly a return to form isn’t a terribly enticing one. But fear not: Time Skiffs is the ideal type of reunion album, literally — it’s their first to feature all four members since 2012’s Centipede Hz — and figuratively, in that it doesn’t simply pay lip service to the past, but organically builds off of that musical foundation to create something fresh for the present. There’s a mellow maturity to the way the songs unravel themselves, patient while also, conversely, never calculated; spontaneity still plays a key role in their songwriting process, but there’s a lucidly defined framework for each track that felt lacking with their previous two studio releases. The amorphous beginning of “Prestor John” eventually entangles two separate musical ideas — and was originally conceived of as two entirely different songs — into one long, beautiful piece of aging, angular alt-rock; “Strung With Everything,” whose jam band-y approach would have felt right at home on Feels, continues the sentimentality, before reaching peak pathos as Avey Tare yelps out over the bridge: “Let’s say tonight you and me / We’ll watch the sky fall into pieces.” For AnCo, who’ve famously disregarded material wealth for the tranquility of familial life (“My Girls”), these little moments continue to matter the most.
But don’t get it twisted: they’re not reliving their glory days, because that implies their best years are behind them. As Avey beautifully puts it on the buoyant “We Go Back”, “I don’t feel the urge to turn back time / I just begin,” which is the closest thing to a thesis statement Time Skiffs produces. There’s always been a wide-eyed curiosity to how Animal Collective has seen the world, best encapsulated with the general optimism of “Cherokee,” which proposes that even some 20 years into our lives, we still have the capacity to “learn a lot” about our surroundings, our neighbors, and even about ourselves. So while the initial meet-up may present as a tad awkward, and you’d be right to be wary of such a proposition, Time Skiffs is a record that fully warrants the rapprochement, marking a rare occurrence where the reconciliation is just as exciting as the initial befriending.
Published as part of Album Roundup — February 2022 | Part 3.