The release of this year’s rapturously received Merriweather Post Pavilion exposed Animal Collective to an enormous new group of fans and served as an awakening to the strange musical concoctions the band has been churning out for nearly a decade. Yesterday’s leak of their new Fall Be Kind EP showcases the group at its best, a perfect marriage of their otherworldly aural tendencies with nontraditional song structures and sensibilities. Much of the material continues in the lush, orchestral vein of Merriweather (some songs were recorded during sessions for that LP) and the crystallization of the band’s celestial sound continues to be thrilling.
After the jump, our track-by-track analysis.
It begins fittingly, with lyrics begging for eyes to be opened: “Let light in.” Hazy strings swirl around a distant voice reassuringly saying, “Let’s not worry.” This EP was supposed to be “darker,” as Dave “Avey Tare” Portner has said in interviews, but that hasn’t appeared yet in this languid atmosphere. It barely has a rhythm, just a soaring voice over the clouds. Tender piano falls in among whispered counterpoint vocals, as the spaceship vibes grow louder and “let me begin” starts to repeat over an increasing drone. It gives way to some conventional cymbal crashing, until a Wunderbar clog-stomp and clap comes out of nowhere. Welcome to Animal Collective’s particularly deranged fun house: Vibrating bass trembling around the merry-go-round oscillations that do sound especially scary, in an abandoned carnival kind of way. The heavenly, ethereal intro is a sharp contrast to this creepy ending. We suddenly see the “darker” side Portner was referring to.
“What Would I Want? Sky.”
Containing the first ever licensed Grateful Dead sample, “What Would I Want? Sky.” ranks among Animal Collective’s best material. The song is light and frothy, airy and beautiful. A pitch-shifting chorus of “ohs” hovers over off-kilter cymbal crashes and a kick drum that sounds like it has been stuffed into cardboard. At that point near-indecipherable moans came in, which could alternately be interpreted as repeating “good genes” or “good dreams.” The gurgling electronic undercurrent sounds like all members of the band were skipping rocks in the studio, and the overlapping ripples all made it into the song. You can feel the weight of the hands playing the piano, giving way to whirling momentum and the chill-inducing triggering of said Dead sample. AC ascends to the occasion with encouraging lyrics: “You feeling phony/You’re not the only,” “I should be floating but I’m/weighted by thinking.” It’s wholly uplifting, all quick chimes and bells, even a choir making an appearance in the background. The song melds seamlessly with the sample, showcasing the band’s consistent skill at turning beautiful patches and textures into beguiling songs with one breath.
After the joyful first two songs, a metallic spoken-word intro leads into the shattered glass and cymbals of “Bleeding.” The sound certainly is nightmarish and dark, but the lyrics suggest something else altogether: “Somehow/I feel/hopeful.” The building and thickening chords sound like a single drip from a faucet thrown into a food processor to wobble around. Oscillations give way to sirens as at the end of “Graze,” but it is the vocal drone that carries the song. Portner has said that Animal Collective likes to release their music during the time period the songs evoke, and “Bleeding” is perfectly representative of those winter months where a chill slowly squeezes out any remaining memory of summer.
“On A Highway”
Cars, or some futuristic implement, are whooshing by. A distant rumble starts to overtake the whizzing, serrated edges and scratching obscure cheery piano chords, barely audible in the cacophony. “On A Highway” sounds like the plea of a traveler stranded on a desert road, the shimmer of refracted heat in the distance. Eventually crushing drum huffs come in, like fists pounding into the dirt, sending small mushroom clouds of dust outward from the point of impact. As if the song’s eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to conjure images of a drug trip, lyrics like “I let some hash relax me/get lost in human pleasure” solidify the idea. The paranoid lyrical musings devolve into a wordless chorus, but fitting the song the pitch-shifted “oohs” are melodic and pleasing, a far cry from the yelps and squeals on the old AC stoner feedback freak-out “Here Comes The Indian.”
“I Think I Can”
“I Think I Can” starts with a haunted graveyard feel, punctuated by chirping birds and ghostly, resounding bleeps. Suddenly a skull-pounding drum pummels you, laid flatly against various tossed finger snaps and handclaps. The riff worms its way into your inner ear, where it might seem repetitive until you realize just how damn catchy it is. Trashcan percussion hammers against vocals as they become increasingly layered, and shuddering bass slithers against plinky synth blips. The lyrics are nearly indecipherable; even when the vocals cut through the mix it doesn’t make them any less muddy. Eventually, overlapping choruses usher in a triumphant sounding outro, “I think I can” repeated over and over and over again. The voices cut out and leave an ever-slowing pluck and spidery circlings of vague instrumentation. It’s unexpected and entrancing, just the type of surprise we’ve come to expect from Animal Collective.
There are some early-Animal Collective apologists resent the fact that the band has become known for the slices of near-pop from Merriweather Post Pavilion. It’s not their fault that a wider audience suddenly realized just how good their music is. AC’s creative output has consistently been sonically challenging, yet highly enjoyable, and with Fall Be Kind the hallucinogenic haze of happiness in their music continues to shine through.