Animal Collective Water Curses [EP]

[Domino; 2008]

Styles: psychedelic, pop, indie rock
Others: Mercury Rev, Beach Boys

Animal Collective’s 2007 album Strawberry Jam seemed to divide fans and critics alike. Its supporters were quick to point out the straightforward tunefulness present in each track. The closest it came to an amniotic bath, as on older tracks like “The Softest Voice” or “Daffy Duck,” was the Goonies-score-meets-Terry Riley construct of “#1.” However, there were plenty of other people, myself included, who felt Strawberry Jam was a good album that was simply missing something. Maybe it was the inclusion of songs like “For Reverend Green” -- which TMT reviewer P Funk rightly critiqued for its Guy Picciotto-indebted screaming -- that Avey Tare’s vocals were unwisely foregrounded in the mix, or the noticeable lack of Panda Bear tracks. “Derek” was easily one of Strawberry Jam's highlights, but I guess when you create a masterpiece like Person Pitch, you can be forgiven for not contributing equally to your day job.

On Water Curses, Avey Tare’s vocals are produced much better. While the music sounds like Strawberry Jam holdovers, the vocals sound closer to Feels, pushed farther back in the mix and sitting more comfortably for it. The sequencing leaves something to be desired, but when viewed in regards to its watery title, one could imagine it like a spring: strong at the source and trickling out towards an unknown and inevitable end. Given that, Water Curses gets to the point with its opening and title track, a gorgeously pure pop song, driven by vocals sloshing amidst a veritable sea of electronic chirping. It’s the most effective track on the EP and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of Strawberry Jam. In fact, it makes me wish it was included on that album, instead of the irritating “Peacebone” or Animal Collective-by-numbers “Winter Wonderland.”

However, over the course of the next three tracks, Water Curses begins to crawl. “Street Flash” is nearly seven minutes of tick-tocking noises, while Avey Tare apologizes for staying out too late because “all the clocks around the town had died.” It is very pretty, and if it weren’t for where the EP headed next, it would make a great segue into another, more upbeat number. “Cobwebs” is the kind of wishy-washy track that gets thrown on an EP for good measure. It’s a lot like the B-sides from the Grass single, still in the vein of what Animal Collective are doing at this point, but failing to be catchy, interesting, or attention-grabbing. Water Curses comes to a close with “Seal Eyeing,” a fully ambient song with plinking piano and warped speak-singing. It plays like an extension of “Daffy Duck” from Feels.

Ultimately, what we’re left with is an EP built around a great pop song, two good ones, and a throwaway. As an indication of where they’re headed, it certainly doesn’t provide any clues. After hearing the People EP, I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that Strawberry Jam would couple electronic jams with the most overtly human vocals in the band’s catalog to date. I guess that is the blessing and curse of Animal Collective, to be constantly changing whether or not the group has fully mastered the techniques employed on a previous album. For now, though, we will have to be content with replaying “Water Curses” ad nauseum and wondering what’s next.

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