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Over two decades have passed since Animal Collective accidentally began to reimagine the sound and image of what’s easiest here to call indie rock. From the start, they turned the ultimately rare trick of tucking inscrutable experiments into songs so infectious they became generational standards, empowering a new permissibility within a sometimes-stodgy scene. They helped make the world safe for The Grateful Dead and tie-dye, or indie rock open to the Gamelan and Juju. Influences, they implicitly insisted, matter less than the music and spirit they inspire. Such paradigm-bending lessons are now simply part of the paradigm, philosophical cornerstones of modern music. But Animal Collective have never sat still, even on the cornerstones they helped create.
Time Skiffs, the quartet’s first studio album in more than half a decade, feels like listening in on a conversation among four old friends, just as it felt during their inchoate early days or their Strawberry Jam heyday. These nine songs are love letters, distress signals, en plein air observations, and relaxation hymns, the collected transmissions of four people who have grown into relationships and parenthood and adult worry. But they are rendered with Animal Collective’s singular sense of exploratory wonder, same as they ever were. There are harmonies so rich you want to skydive through their shared air, textures so fascinating you want to decode their sorcery, rhythms so intricate you want to untangle their sources. Here is Animal Collective past 20, still in search of what’s next.