Strangely, Animal Collective seemed to take a mild critical poke for “Strawberry Jam” last year, perhaps due in part to the extravagant blog love for the Panda Bear solo album, “Person Pitch”, which preceded it by a few months.
For my own part, I couldn’t quite see why there was a bit of a backlash against this generally marvellous band. Maybe it was because their nagging kindergarten melodies were given a greater prominence on “Strawberry Jam” – though to be honest, it’s still an idea of pop music that’s been mediated by the avant-garde. Or maybe it was because after a glut of releases over the past few years, the creepy, exuberant, yelping Animal Collective aesthetic might just have started getting on the nerves of some of their longer-serving fans.
I can understand this; in many ways, AC are cursed by the relative originality of their sound. Once you’ve got used to that jittery, high-pitched atmosphere, to those yabbering harmonies and sloshing textures, I imagine some listeners will want Avey Tare, Panda Bear and so on to try and find a new gimmick.
The thing is, I don’t think this is a gimmick – it’s just how they make music. And consequently, however their music evolves, their pronounced difference to other bands will make their records sound the same as each other.
Does that make sense? Not sure, but my point is that I’m pleased to say that “Water Curses”, the new Animal Collective EP, is more of the same, more or less. “Water Curses” itself is one of those hysterical, hyperactive AC songs that continues to tumble over itself in trying to express some random, breathless manifestation of the human spirit etc. It could have fitted in quite comfortably on “Strawberry Jam”, if you’re still not 100 per cent behind that record.
The other three tracks, however, drift away into more spectral, even more satisfying terrain. “Street Flash”, “Cobwebs” and “Seal Eyeing” – three titles that could’ve been concocted by an Animal Collective random name generator, for sure – have that kind of dislocated ambience that came to prominence on my favourite AC album, “Feels”.
These are gentle but disorienting tracks; ebbing, spacious lullabies where the band’s more abrasive edges gradually dissolve into muted squelch and squiggle. Still, though, unnerving elements remain deep in the mix, so that “Street Flash”‘s reverie is punctuated by distant forlorn laughs and some great primitive roars.
There’s something enchanted but also unanchored about Animal Collective at their best, and the hazy imprecision that they conjure up, the magical originality of their music, make them hard to write about. Here’s my last stab at articulating why I think they’re such a great band, circa “Strawberry Jam”.