Animal Collective go the distance on their sprawling new single, "Defeat."
Animal Collective have always played by their own rules. Their live shows are often a representation of what they're currently working on for their next album rather than a collection of their "hits" and every record is a bit of surprise in terms of pop sensibility or even accessibility. They've always done things in their own way and fans have jumped on and off board throughout their extensive career. On "Defeat," their first single since last year's comeback-esque record Time Skiffs, is an epic, twenty-plus minute journey. The track begins with ambient drones, scattered percussion, and Avey Tare's warped vocals that stretch over ringing synths. Hitting like a dense fog, it slowly starts to dissipate to reveal a more traditional style that casual fans may enjoy just around the nine minute mark. Slowly, the tribal rhythms pick up pace and what emerges is some of their most-straightforward melodies in quite some time. The beat builds and the curtain of clouds evaporates to reveal a bouncing, party-like jam that still feels primal, but hits on their ability to create a danceable groove that can easily get a crowd vibing hard to their bounce. Lasting briefly, the fog rolls in again twelve minutes into the song and the twinkling ambience returns giving the song its distinct sections that almost makes it feel like an EP's worth of material instead of one, long song. The droning, reverberating vocals come back in full force, giving a shapeless sense of floating to the song as gusts push and pull life into the number while also giving flashbacks to their more experimental past. It's a reminder that the band probably never set out to be the mainstream crossover they became in 2009 and that even with that burst to the top of festival posters, they never caved on their core and have always made the music they've desired and not the music anyone ever expects. It's radical to think that in 2023, new music from Animal Collective can be just as surprising as ever, but also still retain the feel and sound of what made them such a bewildering act to begin with and that even after brushes with stardom and writing credits on a Beyoncé record, they can return with something as abstract as "Defeat" and still chalk it up as a victory.