As though it wasn’t enough that nearly every major music publication branded their eighth studio album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, one of the best of 2009 (including number one nods in Spin, and the indie tracking website of reckoning, Pitchfork.com), Animal Collective simply couldn’t allow the year to fade away without firing one last kaleidoscopic flare into 2009’s dimming night sky. Its name was Fall Be Kind, a 30 minute EP comprised of music written throughout the creation of Merriweather. And though not entirely dissimilar from its more ambitious, older kin, the question remains: Can a collection of tunes that couldn’t make the cut really qualify as a good album? The answer, as it turned out, was yes.
Album opener, “Graze,” begins with an amorphic swell of synthesizers, washing in and out with a tidal-like persistence. Punctuated by Avey Tare’s (Dave Portner) fitting mantra of “Let me begin,” the tune evolves into something of a calypso boogie. But the overarching vibe is unmistakably uplifting, even celestial, and makes for a smooth, memorable entry into a short EP that has little time to prove itself. “What Would I Want? Sky” follows in much the same pattern, opening with ethereal reaches – remarkably built off a sample of the Grateful Dead’s “Unbroken Chain” – before breaking into a tumbling beat awash in danceable energy. With a visceral punch of sonic happenings that seemingly bombard ears from all angles, the album thus far easily attains the exhilaration of Merriweather and its shiniest of gems, “My Girls,” but here’s where things get different.
By mid-album, Animal Collective has largely abandoned the good-vibe and danceable energy of Merriweather, for a cerebral, industrial approach that turns Fall Be Kind into a listen-only experience. The monochrome drone of “Bleed” does well as a transition: its steady pulse functions as a fulcrum between the album’s elevating start and brooding end, tying the disparate extremes together. “On a Highway” and “I Think I Can” follow, reveling in muted energy, and pushing icicled, dissonant sounds which place the songs somewhere between the staid approach of Sigur Ros’ “Staralfur” and sonic antagonism of their own “Slippi” from 2003’s, Here Comes The Indian. This severe shift from rainbow start to sepia toned end might be disorientating, but on some level it also functions as the central draw of Fall Be Kind, helping to distinguish it from the album which bore it.
Much like Phish’s The Siket Disc or Neil Young’s Trans, Fall Be Kind earns its keep not because of what you’ve come to expect, but rather, what you don’t expect. It’s Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s creative, explorative freedom that arguably renders this album essential to true fans. With an unencumbered imagination they dare stabs in directions their hit album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, simply couldn’t have taken (and still been a hit). Likewise, this EP rewards repeated listening by adding new dimensions to a familiar sound. And given the chance to develop the acquired taste, even those initiated to the band through Merriweather would likely find this compilation of leftovers quite satisfying.