Review Summary: As a collection of songs, each one ranks among the band’s best; as an album, Fall Be Kind is a swift, personal and evocative statement from a band known for being cryptic. You helped make this; enjoy.
If we’re going to look at this piece literally, Fall Be Kind
is Animal Collective selling out. It is a quick strip of subtleties for a band that has spent the last decade doing everything in their power to intrigue us by the vivacity of their mystique. Pick your favorite: was it the sudden shock and maturity of their scuzzy, hardwired debut Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished
? Or perhaps the candid true freak-folk housed in the underrated Here Comes the Indian
? The vividness in which Animal Collective transitioned past this point into their current manifestation, one that wields no real shape or design, was one that proved too grand for us to see. Modern masterpieces, exciting forward-thinking pieces that delved headfirst into pop escapism and ruminations on the human nature, were being released one to two years apart and met each time with the entire scope of criticism, right down to the most offhanded of shrugs.
For some, Animal Collective became It at Feels
(myself included), and each subsequent release was another delirious trip, so removed from what came before as to defy comparison against itself and sometimes criticism altogether; I’d argue we’re not bending backward for our fandom but rather embracing a transcendent state of trust with what the band is striving to do with each track. A tricky situation, one that I’d say would make me more vulnerable to getting hurt. What is a bad track if not a bad track? And yet, despite some patchy EP work (that ends here), Animal Collective have continued to fulfill some promise we never even asked of them ever since the soft patter of percussion opened Here Comes the Indian
: that of a drive to create music that is both challenging and, over the years, increasingly accessible--by Animal Collective standards of course, but with the vastness of their discography, it’s a credible comparison.
When Merriweather Post Pavilion
made its rounds early in the year, the hype exploded. Uncut wrote that it “feels like one of the landmark American albums of the century so far.” The fame and popularity, which had been steadily bubbling since Sung Tongs
caught attention, was suddenly enormous: you could find Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s goofy faces on the cover of Spin
, riding magazine stands next to Kanye West covers and Twilight
tabloids. I thought I had seen the toll all the pressure had taken when, during a June show just earlier this year, the band appeared visibly annoyed at an audience that appeared visibly annoyed--at a truly great, trance-like show, I might add, marred by a curly-haired frat boy behind me who inquired aloud, persistently, as to when the band would finally play, “you know, the sooooong-suh
”-- and neglected to finish “My Girls” in the way learned from record, retreating to the backstage with a curt, “Thanks Dallas, good night.” This was a band that every show prior to 2009 had felt like a trippy, surreal, shared experience. What would the band do now that that feeling of community was lost in arguably the most important setting?
Fall Be Kind
. Animal Collective’s embrace of the EP format is something of a small miracle, mostly because this certainly doesn’t feel like an EP. 27 minutes would be an acceptable album length by anyone’s standards; “mini-album” would be more appropriate for Animal Collective’s pedigree. When most of the band’s catalogue swings around the hour mark, Fall Be Kind
’s more pragmatic editing in the tracklisting helps to give full dimension to the music contained there within. With all subtleties stripped, with the production crisp and engineered to bring us up close to the sweaty, hardworking musicians behind the mechanics, Fall Be Kind
finds the band opening up to us in ways more personal and grounded in their reality.
“Graze” expounds on the formula that worked so well for the Merriweather Post Pavilion
’s flustering opener (“In the Flowers”), teasing its first few moments out in slow, deliberate strokes in colors more reminiscent of Feels
, trickling that rippling-water synth that flooded songs like “Summertime Clothes” in a constant sense of misdirection. When the song eventually decides on a pleasant-enough clap-beat and the delirium of its Disney-inspired pan flute action, it’s already too late to realize that this is a really sad song. “Let me begin / feel good ‘cause it’s early / ease open my eyes / and let light in” feels grounded in hope, a new awakening, but it works effectively as a metaphor for the band experiencing this newfound popularity, one to revel in and to embrace. But doubts fog the piano line here (“How does a band / turn into such a thing / ... / why does a band make me”) and so the gut-punch of the song’s second half resounds with the urgency of longing for a life where you don’t play phone tag with the ones you want to be with most (“Why can’t I reach you / when I most need you / you’re at the beach / and I’m in some strange bed”).
“Graze” in relation to “What Would I Want? Sky” is a key factor in the success of both songs, and ultimately of the album as a whole. The themes touched upon in “Graze” are because of songs like “What Would I Want? Sky”, a favorite since its circulation on tour earlier this year and now whittled down to as close an approximation of an Animal Collective pop song as we could expect to this point. The crossover possibilities of this track are numerous, but the most obvious is Avey Tare who isn’t disguised by theatrics or grand vocal melodies. He’s practically rapping, riding the Grateful Dead sample with a playful swagger that straddles the paranoia rampant from its atmospheric introduction. We can clearly hear him, and for the first time, undoubtedly understand him: “I should be floating / but I’m weighted by thinking.” It is this very song and its success that will qualify and deepen “Graze”, and together they create 12-minutes of honest AC perfection.
“Bleed” then creates a soft breather, with layers of Panda Bear and Avey Tare’s vocals overlapping to the hum of drone pooling at their feet. Similarly to “What Would I Want? Sky”, “Bleed” has been whittled down from its much more prolonged running time (found on the “Brother Sport” single) to a much more refined and amiable four minutes. “On a Highway” is the one tricky high-wire act of the set, with its opening minute confined to Avey Tare giving a giddy tilt to his delivery that contrasts the lackadaisical rush of its titular landscape. But in its lyrics we find the song’s awkward claustrophobia understandable as they detail observations on the road, muting the beauty of the people around them (“On a highway / the pretty lady passenger / her toes against the window / are tapping to the tunes there”) or letting slip a sly wisecrack that eases the tensions (“There are some workers pissing / it starts my bladder itching / can I wait for the exit?”). When Avey intones in a soft falsetto, “I’m sick from too much reading / jealous of Noah’s dreaming / can’t help my brain from thinking,” he further presents his life in a way that, by erasing any interpretation, brings us right to the beating heart of what inspires this music.
All these emotions bubble over and float away in anthemic closer “I Think I Can”, which charges through its first half with a confrontational aggressiveness, recalling the rhythms common among tribal rituals. The lyrics too, what can be easily deciphered, are mostly self-fulfilling: first in that same confrontational manner, with Avey and Panda harmonizing vis-a-vis Merriweather Post Pavilion
, “Well I guess / I’m just doing what makes me feel good.” Later, when the song has shifted swiftly into its singsong climax, where Panda Bear channels pure Beach Boys beauty in his refrains, it becomes a-little-engine-that-could moment of self-redemption that sends the album off in the most poetic way possible: “Will I get to move on soon? / I think I can / I think I can / I think I,” repeated until necessary. It’s one of the few moments on the album that belongs purely to them, and I find again the band I fell in love with on Feels
and the similar “Turn Into Something.”
Fall Be Kind
does its dirty job and retains a pristine finish. It had the impossible task of following up one of the most hyped albums of this decade and yet it barely breaks a sweat. As a collection of songs, each one ranks among the band’s best; as an album, it is a swift, personal and evocative statement from a band who has risen to fame by being one of the more mystifying and challenging modern bands to comply to pop structures, and it is all in the details. Fame has brought Fall Be Kind
to fruition, and something this ***ing good will surely bring them more. Their families will just have to share.