Animal Collective claimed 2009 as their own when they released Merriweather Post Pavilion in January, kicking off the year with not only their best album, but one that would prove extremely hard to top in the ensuing 11 months and change. And in those months that followed, they didn’t let up. After the album came the singles: “My Girls,” “Summertime Clothes” and “Brothersport,” a trio of tracks that, while still largely relegated to an underground audience, made great strides in opening the band up to an audience that, previously, may not have been sold on hyperactive yelps and campfire singalongs. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re simply amazing songs (the other 8 on the album aren’t slouches either).
By releasing Fall Be Kind, a 27-minute, 5 song EP in December, Animal Collective effectively bookends 2009, not only ringing the opening bell but performing the closing ceremony as well. The five tracks that make up the EP are similar in tone and structure to the heavily looped, pop-centric creations on Merriweather, if a bit looser and slow to build. The very first track, “Graze,” takes its time to truly materialize, bits of ambient sound forming a cloud as Avey Tare chants “let me begin.” A solid three minutes or so pass until the climactic shift, which is one of the group’s weirdest, to say the least. After a few hi-hat taps, in comes a sample of a tune by fucking Zamfir of all things. Yeah, the Pan flute guy. And sure enough, against the odds, but certainly in AC character, the group makes this absurd Renaissance Faire jig into a celebration. It’s big and fun, and hell, structurally, not that different than the build in “In the Flowers.” Those clever buggers.
“What Would I Want? Sky” follows, a song that stirred up a bit of publicity for being the first ever song to contain a legally cleared Grateful Dead sample. That, itself, is novel, and perhaps stronger evidence of the link between Animal Collective and jam band crowds. But more importantly, it’s one of the better songs in the band’s catalog. It’s as catchy as any of the singles from Merriweather, certainly, but breezier and less explicitly beat driven. It’s simply gorgeous.
“Bleed” and “On A Highway” take a turn away from more concrete structure, and toward hazier, nebulous sounds. The former, in particular, seems less like a pop song and more of a textural piece, not unlike much of the group’s earlier work. Yet the latter finds Avey Tare depicting various scenes from their tour bus over vibrating, echoing sonic waves. EP closer “I Think I Can,” meanwhile, is a bit more complex, stretching out over seven minutes in a dark progression that sounds a bit like the evil cousin to Panda Bear’s Person Pitch. The production is heavily layered and complex, with heavy percussion and minor key tones, but as the song closes, Noah Lennox’s recitation of the title makes for an uplifting conclusion.
As far as Animal Collective has come in terms of accessibility and pop songwriting, Fall Be Kind still shows just how much of a risk they’re willing to take with their music. Building a song around a Dead vocal sample, incorporating a goofy Zamfir loop into a track, these are things that most bands probably wouldn’t attempt. And with good reason. In the wrong hands, these moves could prove embarrassing. But Animal Collective has never made music on anyone else’s terms, and the payoff is that much sweeter because of it.
Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Atlas Sound – Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
Stream: “What Would I Want? Sky”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.