Review Summary: Good stuff thanklessly packaged.
With Strawberry Jam
, Animal Collective had hit a sort of animalistic core as far as their stoner-pop was concerned. Coming off the backburner of the more lush and fully realized Feels
felt slight and a little top-heavy, if still delicious and inviting. For what it was worth, it cemented Animal Collective as one of modern music’s freakiest pop outfits, extraneous and daring in the face of risks and dangers, dumped out of a boiling pot that surely had more left to spill. So enters Water Curses
, a short and carefully measured EP that reaches high (and higher) but never really fully takes off.
This certainly is no fault of the songwriting, since Water Curses
, and its title-track specifically, find Animal Collective at the top of their game. Bursting onto the scene with a fluid and exasperating pace, “Water Curses” is a complex but simple delight, made so by its erratic production of creaking floorboards, sonic-bound lasers, and bubbling waves. Collective by way of Panda Bear, “Water Curses” seems like the missing ingredient from the undercooked Jam
, with Avey Tare complementing, not commanding a scene he knows all too well. He is, essentially, his own instrument, spurting out nonsense alongside the clash of cymbals with the greatest of ease. “I want to be like water and slip into your throat / and make you feel alive and good,” he sings at one point, and it’s a testament to the band that the invigorating “Water Curses” does just that.
So surely it’s the rest of the EP that falls short of such greatness? In close vicinity of such melodic upturn, it might seem that way. “Street Flash” brings the momentum to a screeching halt, whirling through scratches and a sultry doo-wop-wop pace to breach an unrelenting six-minutes. “Cobwebs” and “Seal Eyeing” never even try to fall back into a swing and instead grow gradually more sedated before ending on a fading piano. But on their own terms, each song in Water Curses
is a small gem. “Street Flash” is beautiful and haunting, a story told through the sound clips of gasps and shrieks and coughs. Avey Tare sounds purely alien here, helped by a score that builds and wanes on a whim. The metronome block that begin “Cobwebs” maintain the momentum, the sounds of bubbling water and lazy synths poking vehemently at Avey Tare’s languished croak. When the song builds into a reverb-drenched climax, layered chants provoking a tribal atmosphere, it’s as pretty a moment as anywhere else.
And finally the production takes over on the piano ballad “Seal Eyeing,” bubbling and popping over the hollowed out score. In the right setting, the track could be one of Animal Collective’s most moving, if only for Avey Tare’s knowing and emotive performance. But the production does the ballad here wonders, giving a slight echo to every build and release until layers upon layers of keys meld together. It’s as good an example as any to prove that Animal Collective might never run out of ideas, which is part of the disappointment in Water Curses
. In the right context, each and every song on the EP could help create another masterpiece; together, they lack flow or substance, and clash without purpose. Better off as highly recommended downloads, Water Curses
sits just shy of being worth the price of admission, even if the individual tracks are.