A couple of minutes into the opening song on Animal Collective’s new EP, Panda Bear interrupts the thoughts of his bandmate Avey Tare to self-consciously wonder aloud “how does a band turn into such a thing?”. Having first made their mark upon the world just after the dawn of the millennium with the unreal-sounding Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, this EP serves a sort of Auld Lang Syne to a decade which should – justice-serving – see the group remembered alongside far less exciting happenings like terrorism and financial crises. Aurally, they’ve been all-encompassing, journeying from lo-fi field recordings to surround sound club anthems and excluding very little in between.
Fall Be Kind begins on a purely theatrical note, with shimmering Disney strings and the mental image of Avey Tare prowling the stage of a West End musical and spouting Genesis-ish lines like “let light in”. There is something decidedly godlike about this moment; the feeling of a higher being imagining and realising a creation, before Panda Bear enters stage left with his aforementioned soliloquy to reflect upon this creation and ponder the meaning and nature of it. But at around the halfway mark, all gravity of tone dissipates as the song begins to softly bounce until a section previously-referred to by bootleggers as ‘Pan Flute Jam’ is introduced. This passage is based around a sample from Gheorghe Zamfir’s ‘Ardeleana’, an uncountable flurry of folky panpipe notes which the Collective transform into a techno sea shanty. Remarkably, the two simple deep bass notes which they overlay on top of this impossible borrowed melody (not to mention the rousing vocals) become almost as addictive in the mix; proof enough that they aren’t just some gang of shameless appropriators with a keen ear and a big record collection.
‘What Would I Want? Sky’ however, gives us further insight into how Lennox, Porner and Weitz listen to music – seemingly with their fingers always resting on the pause button, constantly ready to rewind, splice and transform. This time they bundle their own personal noise on top of a Grateful Dead sample, the first to be officially endorsed by the crusty old rockers. But in practice, whilst Garcia and co. may receive a credit for the song, they deserve none of the kudos. The reversed and looped vocal is shy of two seconds long and quite simply serves as inspiration for the epic and floating transgressive jam. There is definitely something weird about the moment when Lennox and Portner begin to embed meaning in gibberish by singing along to a reversed 35-year old vocal with a ‘meaning of life’ gusto… but then again, that’s likely to be the point.
The band seem to have found it difficult to follow on from the first two tracks here, but that’s very understandable. Fall Be Kind is essentially an outtakes EP, with the exception of these couple of gems. Their exclusion from Merriweather Post Pavilion is owing instead to that album’s proud sampleless nature, rather than them emitting an ‘obvious b-side’ vibe. However, there are still plenty of delights to be found. Although ‘Bleed’ could be dismissed as being just a captivating mood piece, ‘On a Highway’ is near-uncomfortably intimate, as we climb inside the mind of a bored Avey Tare, travelling between cities on tour. We are sitting on the tourbus with him. We also need to use the toilet. We are also wondering who turned the music off. We are also jealous of our sleeping bandmate. There are very few musicians with the ability to include us within the music and surround us by it, but the head-invasive sounds of Animal Collective certainly qualifies them for this accolade. The EP’s ultimate song (Lennox’s ‘I Think I Can’) produces unsoothable excitement for the next Panda Bear album. What could just be another song about drugs (and/or getting off them) is executed as a bewildering mass of soaring harmonies and positivity chants.
In the EP’s title, Animal Collective have sent the season of autumn a strict command. The season of autumn has audibly decided to grant them their wish, for our listening pleasure; proof of how kindly and responsibly these fellows handle the great power afforded to them.