22.12.2009, Words by Charlie Jones

Fall Be Kind

I usually really like Animal Collective EPs. Unsurprisingly for a band obsessed by the lunatic possibilities of the free form and the constraints of classical POP!, Animal Collective’s most compelling releases have been their EPs, a format suited to sketches and quick thoughts. So, yeah, I was pretty excited about hearing ‘Fall Be Kind’, a five-track EP apparently recorded during the ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ sessions. Merriweather record is, of course, a Very Good Album, even by the standards of its offcuts, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that ‘Fall be Kind’ is simply not the work of a thrilling, vital band. That’s not to say that these songs are not interesting, enjoyable or even that the guys are some of the most important musicians of the moment. What Do i Want? Sky has a lovely refrain and is actually one of the most awesome songs of this year. Contrary to the childish sides of the band, I’d commend even their emotional complexity, particularly on Graze. Final track I Think I Can is very, very pleasurable. It’s just that the Vital Urgent Thrill simply isn’t there. Three suggestions of why this EP feels slightly, well, lacking

Diminishing returns
Brutal, brutal, brutal, I know, but no less true – but you can’t do the same thing again and get the same results. The shock of the new is lost, and shock is brilliant. Music is surprise. This isn’t just retread, sure – it’s more tuneful and subtle than anything on Merriweather for one thing. And while perfectly good, nothing really surprises here – the booming vocals, the looping undercurrents, the delicate topnotes are simply not new any more. Animal Collective maybe feel this more than most bands because of their roots in childish excitement. ‘Feels’ sounded like a feeling no adult can feel – that blinding, fierce intensity of a child’s imagination. And despite this, it’s hard to find within the harmonic structures of AnCo (like loops and stuff) the comforting intensity of the New like we did before. Returns diminish. We grow. We demand more.

The jump
One moment that keeps on getting talked about is the use of panpipes. The thing about this moment is not the obvious “anti-good taste” that using the instrument implies (the taste barrier is dead, whatever), it’s the moment before that bothers me – it leads you into expecting the jump to sublimity. You’re expecting crescendo, and you get panpies. This lack of a CRASH happens a few times in the record, and an unkind soul could call this squeamishness. An even more unkind soul could draw a parallel between this squeamishness and the ambivalent attitude to AnCo’s status detailed on Graze – “And to have a band that cracks the point of fame – Why does a man like me?” A stern soul could call this ambivalence a dereliction of duty.

The loop
I interviewed Dan Deacon back when and he told me that the single most amazing musical innovation of the time was the loop pedal. ‘Fall Be Kind’ is the problems with loops. Loops create and amplify sound. Loops can turn a laptop into an orchestra. Loops look inwards. Loops contain and replicate. Ideas feed in, sure, but it’s a cyclical motion rather than a linear one. Sometimes you want something from outside. Sometimes clarity trumps magnificence. Once they sounded sublime. Now they just sound comforting. And, sorry, but some sensations are better than comfort.

Now, I know that these niggles could equally be construed as bravos. What’s wrong with the same, when the same is great? What’s wrong with craft and repetition? Can innovation not come from within? Refinement is not only natural, it’s beautiful, surely?

Yes, yes, yes. But …

This is wonderful dreampop. But sometimes one wants to wake up.

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