Animal Collective: Fall Be Kind
In January this year, a band called Animal Collective released its epic masterpiece, ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, onto the world — and critics, fans, and radio stations alike went gaga over an unusually accessible and ecstatically poppy side of the New York-based band. “Merriweather” quickly became the one to surpass this year as Best Indie Album. And now, at the other end of the year, a contender finally appears: a twenty-seven-minute-long whirlpool of sound, colour, and emotion, put forth by the same group of three people known as Animal Collective (and at the length of this EP, we can almost consider it an album). With ‘Fall Be Kind’, Animal Collective has done the near-impossible: it has followed up the timeless album that is “Merriweather” with an EP that is just as good.
If “Merriweather” was the summer album, carefree and happy, then ‘Fall Be Kind’ is the more personal, more introspective autumn (or fall) that follows. Everything that Animal Collective creates, however, is permeated by their characteristic sound while sounding totally unique. ‘Fall Be Kind’ also exhibits the crisp editing that we saw in “Merriweather”, and to good effect: this EP may just be the best one that Animal Collective has ever released.
With the enormous crossover success following the release of “Merriweather”, the band has had to deal with a sudden spike in mainstream fandom and publicity. The vagueness and loss of self that follows is a major theme tinting the entire EP. In “Graze”, Panda Bear (a.k.a. Noah Lennox) ponders how his quirky band became something that “cracks the point of fame”. Again, in “On a Highway”, the lyrics speak of the longing for that sense of familiarity and security that has been distant since “Merriweather”.
“Fall” starts off with the ethereal mist of “Graze”; Panda Bear’s voice floats around with tantalising promises (“Let me begin,” he says “ideas are brewing”). The sounds swirl around your mind, thicker and more vivid than aurora-tinged fog, while reverberating vocals talk about newfound success. There is also a hint of cynicism towards the fans that have jumped on to the bandwagon ever since it became cool to name-drop “My Girls”. However, at about three minutes into the song, the veil of delicate mystery explodes into, well, Disney on crack. A pan flute solo, akin to a theme park ride gone berserk, leads into the merrier second half, which, if you listen closely, is sadder in content than the first, featuring Avey Tare (a.k.a. Dave Portner) and Panda lamenting about the discomforting life on the road.
The song seamlessly melts into the beautiful “What Would I Want? Sky”. Electronic whirring shifts into vocalised goodness, backed by beats so off-kilter that they feel more internalised than traditional time signatures (for the record, “Sky” rolls along at 7/4). After three minutes of expressive atmospherics, the song, like the one before it, transforms almost unrecognisably. Avey, in some of the clearest vocal and lyrical work in an Animal Collective song, delivers pensive lines about the “right way” through life, with sharp precision layered over even sharper beats. This is the first song ever to have an authorised Grateful Dead sample, and Animal Collective takes the line “Willow sky, whoa I walk…” (from “Unbroken Chain”), and splices and inverts it in a way so glorious that we deliberately mishear it as the title of the song; the continuous repetition of this line forms perhaps the best Animal Collective hook of all time.
They’re not afraid to modify their sound because they’ve figured out how to make their essence stick, no matter how drastic the change.
The ponderous existentialism of “Sky” is followed by the slow “Bleed”, which features effortless vocal exchanges between Avey and Panda. The lyrical jumble somehow rearranges itself into a sense of letting down a good friend; you won’t understand how you understand it, or how they communicated it to you, but you get it.
“On a Highway” begins with whizzing sounds that create an image of speeding cars on a fast road. Simple-yet-expressive lyrics talk about how Animal Collective has achieved fame, but at the price of a general sense of loss and doubt (“And when they call me lucky for all the places I stay / It’s hard for me to not say / I can’t wait to find home”). In the background, somnambulistic music glides past with a glorious sense of maturity.
After these mellower think-pieces, Animal Collective pulls out a wondrous potion of blissful optimism from its already jaw-dropping bag of tricks with the album closer, “I Think I Can”. It starts with more of the contemplative mood music before a bone-tingling single beat drops like a brick on the fabric of the airy song threatening to float away. The lyrics speak of one person’s explanation of his reluctance about quitting drugs because he knows that, to cope with his future troubles, he’ll come back to them anyway; but he thinks someday he can quit them. With almost hip hop-like placement of beats and words, this instantly likable song proves to be a steady sequence of hooks; it’s perhaps a greater possible-crossover-hit than “Sky”. The song proves to be a fitting close to an epochal EP and an epochal year for the band. In these last few minutes of the seven-minute-long song, all the gloom and self-doubt of the EP’s five songs is nullified by two simple lines: “Will I get to move on soon? / I think I can”.
‘Fall Be Kind’ proves with resounding irrefutability that the experimentation of Animal Collective’s earlier years is leading somewhere: they can now capture their quintessential quirkiness, and combine it with sunny pop aesthetics (How sunny? Think Beach Boys), in a way that is supremely their own. “What’s nice about staying on the same pace?” asks Avey on “I Think I Can”; and it is precisely their need for constant change that establishes the continual brilliance of Animal Collective. They’re not afraid to modify their sound from album to album because they’ve figured out how to make their essence stick, no matter how drastic the change.
Simply put, ‘Fall Be Kind’ is more worthy an epilogue to the masterpiece of “Merriweather Post Pavilion” than even the most ardent Animal Collective fan could have asked for. In the annals of music history, 2009 will always be decisively noted as the year that Animal Collective won over the world. ‘Fall Be Kind’ is recommended, highly.