Animal Collective, Fall Be Kind EP
By Ryan Hamm
December 8, 2009
Animal Collective has had quite the year. In January 2009, they released Merriweather Post Pavilion, an album that garnered "album of the year" accolades even though it was released barely a week into the new year. The album was touted by pretty much everyone as a landmark album in American pop music (as "pop" as music featuring looped ruminations about a broken air conditioner can be) and earned Animal Collective a new legion of fans no one ever expected them to have, least of all them.
For, you see, Animal Collective has always been a little ... well, weird. And not always in a good "difficult" way. From their debut album through 2007's Strawberry Jam (though less so on Jam), AC mined sounds so far away from what you might think of as melody that people outside of the cozy (and insular) confines of "indie rock" didn't know what to do with them.
And then came "My Girls."
If you haven't heard the song,look it up on YouTube immediately. It's without a doubt one of the best songs of 2009, if not for the past several years. Somehow taking a concept as simple as desiring a house and safe place for a wife and a family and blowing into an epic war cry that reflected our early-2009 hope (remember, this was pre-really, really bad recession) with one giant chorus: I just want four walls and adobe slate / for my girls. It was an appeal to simplicity, to love and to the overwhelming joy brought by the best of family. Most of all, it mined what had, heretofore, been missing and just under the surface of Animal Collective's songs: a full-blown, honest-to-goodness melody.
And Merriweather was full of them, from the grainy stomp of "Summertime Clothes" to the warbly shout-outs of "Brothersport," Animal Collective had figured out it was okay to make tunes.
That spirit continues into the excellent EP, Fall Be Kind (out digitally now and available physically next week), a five-track recording with songs from some of the same sessions that produced Merriweather. You can tell they came out of the same time period—some of the same tricks and melodic obsessions are explored. Lyrics are decipherable (though not always understandable), and the gauzy, murky subtext of the album will be familiar ground to fans of Merriweather, as will the explosive singalong choruses.
That's not to say it's all same-old same-old though. Opening track "Graze" swims along before bursting into some kind of off-kilter carousel melody. Appropriately the line "let me begin" loops over and over before the demented flute-noise sets up an almost-danceable melody for the rest of the track.
"Bleeding" sounds like a song bubbling under the surface (sometimes with literal bubbling noises), something gestating but never quite being born. It's the only track on Fall Be Kind that doesn't feel essential—it's not bad, to be sure, but it acts more as background noise than as a standalone track. "On a Highway" is another slow-boil of a song, but one that builds to a cacophony of sounds and harmonies. It's a beautiful track, though I could do without the "informative" lyrics about urinary habits and drug usage.
"I Think I Can" is kind of a musical math problem that presents little snippets of song and lyrics only to resolve them in a massive singalong of the title phrase, a singalong that swirls and jumps all over the scale. The resolution is complete and is a beautiful track and a perfect closer (much like the aforementioned "Brothersport" in fact).
The centerpiece to the entire EP (and possibly the capstone on a terrific 2009 for Animal Collective) is the second track, "What Would I Want? Sky." The song gained notoriety even before its release because it was the first time a Grateful Dead track had ever been legally sampled. And the beginning does share a few characteristics with a Dead tune—a psychedelic circular melody, lyrics about "dreams" and quite possibly written under the influence of some sort of illegal substance.
But then the song shifts. The drums pick up. The beat solidifies. The lyrics come into focus. And "What Would I Want? Sky" proves to be one of the best tracks of the year, giving even "My Girls" a run for its money. The members of the Collective mesh their harmonies perfectly, and create a sort of spaced-out dance track. Just try to listen to this track without bobbing your head along appreciatively (even though the beat is among the most complicated on the record).
Overall, Fall Be Kind is a perfect extension of the Animal Collective fans have fallen in love with post-Merriweather. It may not be as groundbreaking as that album was, but it's not supposed to be. Instead, it's a wonderfully realized coda to one of the most incredible years a band has had in recent memory.