The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Animal Collective
Water Curses Derek Walmsley , May 12th, 2008 00:00

Animal Collective - Water Curses

Freedom is in the eye of the beholder. To their advocates, Animal Collective have explored some of the most ecstatic regions of contemporary rock, from the lofty, romantic heights of Mercury Rev to the angular, fractured forms of post-rock. They are one of the few current bands whose sound is utterly distinctive and wholly theirs " orgasmic vocals like air escaping from a balloon, guitars strummed so fast they become an impressionistic blur " as if they've wrapped their whole subjective world around them, warping space in their own image.

For all that, and whatever their most ardent fans say, Animal Collective undeniably revisit the same old terrain again and again. Often, their aesthetic palette seems to extend little further than the Beach Boys on E, their happy-clappy melodies looping the loop as if reaching the plateaux of an MDMA rush. Their tracks pack in so many chord changes they are almost too fast to see, and this perpetual motion means they rarely take on the hard contours required to lodge themselves in the memory banks. While Animal Collective's music is undoubtedly freeform, it can become an undifferentiated, impressionistic blur. As the lyrics of 'Cobwebs', from this new EP, put it, "it's a sticky case/the more I move, the less I'm free".

If their music resembles the early stages of a drug rush, where a kaleidoscope of ideas reverberate in the mind only to be forgotten moments later, it's not surprising that over the course of a whole album their work is only fleetingly successful. Last year's Strawberry Jam was a fractured and fitful affair, and 2005's Feels oscillated between frothy excitement and intense languor with little in between. But their EPs contain some of their best work, capturing the band's unique state of wide-eyed, emotional innocence in its freshest, starkest state. The Prospect Hummer EP with revered English folk singer Vashti Bunyan was some of their most evocative work, its whispered vocals and strummed guitars rolling in on the balmy summer breeze. Water Curses is another brief but intensely seductive EP, and if the songs here are as turbulent as a jacuzzi, it serves all the better to capture their warm, nurturing emotional currents.

'Water Curses' itself is the kind of hyperactive sing-song we've heard from them many times before, but an almost rave-y fairground synth in the middle eight hints at the textural depth to come. 'Street Flash' is a drip-drop strummed lament that in its middle section drifts into a truly otherworldly interlude of swimming pool reverb with vocals bubbling to the surface. The rhythm of 'Cobwebs' is somewhere between Tricky and Aphex Twin, with chunky metallic plonks and squelchy electronic blips, while the guitars are rendered as grainy whitewashes of noise and frothing tides. It's one of the few Animal Collective tracks to successfully synthesise their bewilderingly diverse musical influences into something wholly new. 'Seal Eyeing' is a piano based ballad with an elastic sense of time, the chords and vocals rocking to and fro while subaqueous collisions suggest a boat gently brushing against its moorings in the night.

Water Curses, like previous EPs, is nothing but a collection of stolen moments. But such is the level of vivid detail, the 18 minutes here seem paradoxically longer than many of the group's more protracted albums. Their work is as fleeting as daydreams, capturing a world of flux, confusion and ephemeral delights. Their peculiar kind of freedom is psychological, intimate and subjective, and it's only within the informal, sketchy outlines of an EP that one can truly experience it.

Animal Collective - 'Water Curses'