Animal Collective appear to have got 2009 pretty much all sewn up. Featuring strongly in a whole slew of Best of Year and Best of Decade features, along with the incredible Merriweather Post Pavilion they have also set a (re)release date for their debut, Campfire Songs, from 2003. Now, right at “their” year’s end, comes this five track EP of new material.
Opening track Graze – apparently an offcut from Merriweather – serves as much as a prelude as a track in its own right, ushering in the music and even announcing itself with the line “let me begin”. Hopeful, upbeat, and infused with that sense of wonder that Animal Collective pull off better than almost any other band, its full lush sound stretches out and repeats, until the brilliant segue into what is almost a second tune, all African rhythms (see also aspects of On A Highway and I Think I Can) and manic fluttering synthesisers.
This then, in turn, merges straight into the EP’s most talked-about track What Would I Want? Sky? This track, the EP’s sometimes-dark heart, is notable for featuring the first ever officially licensed sample from The Grateful Dead. Lifted from their track Unbroken Chain the snippet – “Sky, woah” – is repeated more like an instrumental riff than a lyrical / vocal sample and adds to an already richly textured piece.
Providing the “yang” to the upbeat opener’s “yin”, the mood is more downbeat, with melancholy yet ultimately inclusive and comforting words about “feeling lonely” or “thorny” but not being “the only” one. The (non-sampled) vocals, when they arrive, are intimate and beautifully warm, and match up well with the sample. One feels that The Dead would approve, or even, indeed, that a torch has somehow been passed from one generation’s leftfield innovators to the next.
Of the rest, On A Highway stands out. One of those tracks that cleverly evokes its subject matter as much by the sound of the music as the words, it tells of an indolent, stoned journey on a tour bus, watching towns go by through the window, letting the “bad things taunt me”, letting “the hash relax me” and feeling a sudden urge to pee when seeing “some workers pissing” as you drive past. It’s nicely done, and is relatively clear and easily interpreted: less oblique than is the norm from this band.
Bleed and closing track I Think I Can are the weakest tracks of the five. The former is fairly creepy, with its deep distorted (voice disguising) vocal, and oppressive feel, while the latter, although featuring a cute synth noise that sounds like the squeaks of a guinea pig and some nice bouncy handclaps somehow seems more a thing of bludgeoning than wonderment. That said, a “weaker” Animal Collective track is probably still quite significantly more interesting, multi-layered and deep than the stronger songs on many a band’s EP, so these are minor quibbles more than full-blown complaints.
All told, though, as we crawl to the end of this Year Of The Animal Collective, this release can certainly be said to have further elevated their status. It remains to be seen what they might pull out of the bag in the next 12 months: quite an exciting prospect.