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Animal Collective

It’s OK to like difficult music, from Sun Ra and Caroliner Rainbow to Merzbow and the later work of Miles Davis. Having to work for music really isn’t a bad thing. It’s not required, and I certainly wouldn’t force headphones on anyone, but I’d say many times the payoff of embracing a more challenging record is worth it.

Despite the success of 2004’s Sung Tongs, I’d place Animal Collective into difficult band territory. Sure, it had its moments of brilliant pop. “Who Could Win A Rabbit” is an amazing single, and if you listened beyond, and beneath, the percussive guitars and wailing chants there were moments of exquisite harmony. But for many of my more pop-minded acquaintances, Sung Tongs was just another difficult album, and Animal Collective, made up of members with names like Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Deaken and Geologist, was just another freak out band only headphone nerds would understand. And the band did very little to prove them wrong.

Panda Bear’s solo effort, Young Prayer, was an esoteric dirge dedicated to his father’s death. Prospect Hummer was a collaborative EP with elusive Scottish folkster Vashti Bunyan, was more psych-out mess than pastoral beaut. It was beginning to feel like there would be no way for me to convince those naysayers, who would rather listen to Pavement than musique concr퀨͌�te, that Animal Collective is the next great band, which they are.

And with the release of Feels, on Fat Cat Records, Animal Collective finally proves it. All of the qualities that made Sung Tongs the visceral masterpiece it was, the pounding acoustic guitars, the elusive harmonies, the floating electronics and scattered drums, are all still there, but suddenly the organic mess has become less ebb and more flow. Feels is an album that harmonizes, not just vocally but entirely. It’s as if Brian Wilson had conducted all of Pet Sounds with one hand. Songs like “Purple Bottle” and “Did You See The Word” are complex and moving, accessible songs. And “Grass” is a kind of unrelenting mix of atmospheric pop and pounding shattered choruses that made me stop dead in my tracks, mid-commute, so I could listen twice more.

I am completely comfortable saying Feels is the best album released this year. The pacing is gripping, carrying you through chaos and floating fractured songs without noticing transition. It is a choreographed masterpiece, that through its resonating beauty and total-encompassing harmonies grabs you and won’t let go. And by the time you’re done and you are finally released, it’s funny to realize that beneath the emotive gripping harmonies and changes is some really difficult music.