Fall Be Kind EP
With the ice cream sundae sort of 2009 Animal Collective has had, anything added was just going to be cherry. Which is why the hit-and-miss quality of their autumnal Fall Be Kind EP isn't so harsh a letdown. "Graze," a leftover that was rightly shunned from Merriweather Post PavilionFall Be Kind>, opens. It starts with inoffensive schmaltz; perfect to soundtrack dawn breaking on shafts of golden wheat. After three minutes, Avey Tare says, "let me begin," as stomping percussion adds tension, suggesting that he might start being awesome. Instead, a pan flute breakdown instantantly evokes the dancing dwarves of Spinal Tap's Stonehenge. The band has earned the clout to get even their most egregious aesthetic lapses called "defiantly" uncool, but this one doesn't earn the modifier.
"What Would I Want? Sky," an advance conversation piece for its cleared Grateful Dead sample, is the highlight. A crunchy beat animates a very long fade in, before the cut and looped Dead sample gives the song a true anchor. The "Unbroken Chain" snippet is sleight of hand, never actually forming the song's title, a mishearing reinforced by Tare's harmonizing. His lyrics, different ways of saying, "Out of sorts? It's cool, we'll all snap out of it," gain a catchy, mantra-like momentum. The band has increasingly let the listener clearly hear their words, and it can be jarring to note how banal and inelegant they can sometimes be (the word "dude" bounces off the ear like a lobbed softball). But per usual, the delivery is warmer and more inventive than practically any other active band's.
The back end of Fall Be Kind is ok, though not wildly memorable. "Bleeding" is a relentless dirge. "On a Highway" calls to mind the slow burns of their overshadowed first record. "I Think I Can" is best, with tricky vocal melodies blooming into a swoon, then fading into afterglow. Off their high mark, sure, but better that these bits of leftover material get exorcised now, before the band regroups for a more daunting proper follow up. Different, bigger, and better will be expected, and a blinding blank slate is now in order.