Album review: Animal Collective – ‘Fall Be Kind’ (Domino)

The most talked about band in the world with an EP that still defies easy categorisation

Imagine for a moment that the internet is something you can hold in your hands. You pick it up and, ignoring mother’s pleas to leave the mucky thing alone, you set about building a scrapbook for every band ever blogged about, by anyone, anywhere. When you’re done, a billion volumes of yack-stack tower and teeter above you like an ironic and never-ending forest of corpse trees, but it’s [a]Animal Collective[/a] whose music has inspired the most virtual ‘column inches’; their book of clippings is so thick Yuri Gagarin can see it, and he’s not just flung out in space any more, he’s nowhere.

And that’s strange, isn’t it? Not that they attract praise, or that Gagarin’s dead (it’s a dangerous profession), but that so much blather surrounds the quartet when the noises they make – slippery, absurd, familiar yet future-new – are so hard to talk about. Taking this record apart is like diving into the sea and trying to glue water together. Better to let it wash over you, because the sound of ‘Fall Be Kind’ is one of a band fast running out of context.

Baltimore-born, Brooklyn-based, Animal Collective already seem to exist on no-one else’s terms but their own. This EP looms into life with ‘Graze’; a track that begins by stealing Walt Disney’s strings and disappears while playing electric panpipes on a medieval waltzer. Where did it go? Where did the electricity come from? Is Walt Disney still frozen in the past? Gluing. Water.

That absurd, time-defying hoedown somehow bleeds seamlessly into ‘What Would I Want? Sky’, which has been in Animal Collective’s live set for over a year, and as such is already more famous on the internet than Tyson the skateboarding bulldog. Sun-baked and blissed out, it’s just as warming and impressive as watching Tyson roll around California’s oceanfront and mocks the band’s assertion that what’s here was “too dark” for their last album. It contains the first legal [a]Grateful Dead[/a] sample, sounds a bit like [a]Lemon Jelly[/a]’s ‘The Staunton Lick’ and still manages – through its hook’s hypnotic repetition – to be the best thing you’ll hear all day.

The surprises continue to gather. ‘On A Highway’ and ‘I Think I Can’ are the most ‘standard’ Animal Collective fare here, the former guided through a lonely night drive by Avey Tare, his eyes picking out pissing workmen, pretty lady passengers and dreaming bandmate Noah Lennox. The latter, the EP’s final track, is Noah’s, and as such loops and lopes along, his throat trailing cascades across strange, quacking synths and war-march drums as he harmonises with sampled versions of himself. It’s good – everything on ‘Fall Be Kind’ is good – but it’s not something we haven’t heard done better before, either in Animal Collective’s past or in 2007, on Lennox’s full-length ‘Person Pitch’.

That’s not to say their past is becoming a curse. This EP’s centrepiece, a stunning hymnal called ‘Bleed’, ranks alongside anything Lennox, Tare (real name David Portner), Brian ‘Geologist’ Weitz and Josh ‘Deakin’ Dibb have ever put their names to. Slow-motion and sparse, it’ll widen your eyes and put an ache in your gut; consisting of little more than Tare’s cooing, Lennox’s wailing and the sombre drone of a lone cello. Stripped of all the sonic flotsam that usually surrounds them, Animal Collective come into their own – if you can ignore the chatter to listen with innocent ears, they surpass ‘good’ and remain bewildering.

Kev Kharas

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Click here to get your copy of Animal Collective’s ‘Fall Be Kind’ from the Rough Trade shop.