Animal Collective – Water Curses EP

Animal Collective – Water Curses (EP)
Domino – 4 stars

Picking up where the dense digistry of last fall’s Strawberry Jam left off, Water Curses finds America’s favorite animals tracking an uncharacteristically spare, wild territory.  While the tracks, which were recorded during the sessions for Strawberry Jam, retain the frenetic programming and glitchy percussion of their mother record, the songs themselves here are more stripped and organic; rather than rely on the chainlink of samplers and synth, here the group return to the layered guitar and vocal form that was the site of their early success without abandoning the lessons they learned on Strawberry Jam.
Opener “Water Curses” recalls the giddy folk of Feels’ “Grass,” with its “Chopsticks”-inspired piano lines, calypso percussion, and buzzsaw acoustic guitars.  “Street Flash” is a sub-seven minute shape drone typical of drummer Panda Bear’s work on Strawberry Jam, an ethereal chant of clipped and effected vocals whose trance-inducing beauty is broken by Avey Tare’s screams.  AC have always been fascinated by the possibitlies of the human voice, from Panda’s stacks of vocal harmonies to Avey Tare’s throat-shredders (both present in “Street Flash”), but they are at their most interesting when using their voices unconventionally.  The caramel organs of the track are punctuated by a loop of a woman screaming that eventually becomes more percussive than alarming, alongside snipped moments of speech from band members, and Panda’s rubberbanded whisperings shifting across the mix.
The most winning of the four tracks, though, is “Cobwebs,” which finds Tare singing (!) over a canned 808 beat, a percussive jet engine, and carefully wrangled organ squeaks; Tare is searching for an end-time answer here as he and Panda declare that they’re “not going underground” while a tabla gulps along nervous and eventually gives way to shimmering guitars and a chorus of Panda Bears exulting “Cobwebs!”  It’s a tender, even soulful song from a group who have built their considerable reputation upon a bed of rattle and hum.  “Seal Eyeing” closes the record with watery vocals, stereotypically “pretty” piano runs, and vocal crescendos.  What could be trite in the hands of another group, or in any other context, instead feels at home on Water Curses.
Animal Collective’s exploration of the relationship between the organic and the technological have powered some of their most successful work (Feels’ “The Purple Bottle” and most of Strawberry Jam come to mind).  Here, perhaps, they have found the balance that they have been searching for: a balance between what they have been provided with and what the future may hold.

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