Assuming the dudes in Animal Collective give a shit about critics’ year-end lists, the timing of their five-song Fall Be Kind EP couldn’t be better. Not only is it a reminder that AC released what still might well be album of the year way back in January, it expands on Merriweather Post Pavilion’s delicate surrealist house pop, stretching it beyond safety, possibly far enough to offset some of the inevitable backlash that’s built up against the past 11 months of superlatives. If they don’t care about listmakers (I like to imagine Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and co. are more concerned with shooting stars and butterfly wings), they’re simply ending 2009 the same way they began it: releasing a truly gasp-inducing piece of music.
“Graze” opens the album with the hazy harmonies of Brian Wilson’s more classically inspired bootleg tracks, at least until about three minutes in, when the hi-hat, foot stomps, and freaking pan flute (you bet your ass that’s a Zamfir sample) shove it into a haunted funhouse. The swirling new-age ambience of “What Would I Want? Sky” takes about the same amount of time to build to a groove, making an abstract vocal loop from “Unbroken Chain” (the first-ever officially licensed Grateful Dead sample) into a vulnerable, multi-tracked tribal chant. “Bleed” begins with some creepy distorted spoken word worthy of a black-metal interlude before the Collective returns to its original m.o. — building to no particular purpose, swelling without releasing. “On a Highway” pulls the same trick, but more effectively, thanks to some livelier percussion and Avey Tare’s detailed tour log (“There are some workers pissing/ it starts my bladder itching”), which renders the little-engine resolution of the livelier “I Think I Can” somewhat anticlimactic, an effective reminder that Animal Collective’s trips are usually better than their destinations. Merriweather’s a more fully realized statement, but after a year, the transitory Fall sounds more interesting. — Jeremy Martin