Merriweather Post Pavilion, the breakthrough album that critical darlings Animal Collective delivered early this year, was a swirling, psychedelic foray into pop music and the “mainstream,” which hardly even exists anymore. It was a piece so joyful, shiny and sugary that on repeated listens, it tended to rot the teeth.
Fall Be Kind, the group’s new EP, remedies this by collecting the scrapped songs from the sampler-heavy Merriweather sessions that lean toward a darker aura. The production (dense as ever, with punchy bass and doctored harmonies on top) is the same, but these songs are more indulgent.
“Old ideas worth doing are taking their time,” Dave Portner sings on the opening “Graze.” Only this band would end their most commercially successful year with a release like this.
Simply put, the group takes chances. As a result, their releases are categorically uneven, dotted with skeletal song sketches, non sequitur excursions and (more often) classic tunes. “Bleed” and “On A Highway” are conscious mood pieces that serve as transitions and little more, while the bookends “Graze” and “I Think I Can” are enjoyable exercises in dichotomy.
But wouldn’t you know it: Fall Be Kind’s best song is also its outlier. “What Would I Want? Sky,” which contains the first licensed Grateful Dead sample, is a pop masterstroke that easily outshines all of Merriweather. With a hop-step rhythm and shimmering synthesizers, the song is the best thing the group has ever recorded and, hands down, the song of the year.
The group is desperate to transform the blasé into the surreal, so the lyric sheet conjures symbols, not stories. These are songs of taxicabs, flesh wounds and roadside workers, everyday images decorated with rhythm and meaning. “I Think I Can” is a balance of self-doubt and self-help, while “On A Highway” imagines a nightmarish road trip (perhaps the consequence of touring for three years straight?).
Animal Collective is a band that self-consciously moves from era to era; they’ve spoken at length to their disdain of stasis and their want of reinventing the songwriting process. They’ve made blunders, but they’ve also succeeded in every step of their growth throughout the decade.
As a new decade begins and the group moves to another era, the future is unsure. For Animal Collective, the climate is ideal.