Apologies for the day off. One day I might explain why, but for now I’m fairly confident in saying it’s a decent reason.
You could have forgiven my three boys, Avey, Panda and Geologist, for taking five years off after their relatively undisputed masterpiece, “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, an album of such colossal, multitudinous glee and fun and joy that, listening to it for the first time is (in my sincere opinion) one of the most purely enjoyable musical discoveries you can have. It unfolds outwards in front of you like a kaleidoscope, it spins like a Catherine wheel, it moves like an untamed ruckus. It is a cavalcade of sounds you can’t not like.
One day I will write about it at length. However, lately I have found myself drawn to the more free-form, floating tones of their companion EP to that album, “Fall Be Kind”. That they released these two discs in a year is nothing short of a miracle, a stunning one-two. The whole album-EP cycle is one that they’ve got down pat, and the content on their EP’s ranks with some of their best work in general (“Prospect Hummer” is a top 5 AnCo release, easy). But surely after the absolute blowout of “MPP”, you’d think they have no juice in the tank.
Well, after the gorgeous ethereal strings of the opener, “Graze”, Panda assures us; “let’s not worry”. And we’re away. Tinkling piano, production that sounds like it came from the office of St Peter, and honey-dripping vocals give way to a mid-song transition that arrives like a parting in the clouds of heaven… And then, a folk stomp, some cello, some sampled panpipes (from Romanian folk musician Gheorghe Zamfir), and an overriding sense of bliss. This is a song to pull back the curtains to, the soundtrack to a recent shift in perspective. It is unspeakably lovely.
This tone continues onto “What Would I Want? Sky”, a live favourite, that somehow manages to work that unwieldy title, question mark and all, into a chorus that you can’t help but sing along to. Once more sampling a song (“Unbroken Chain” by the Grateful Dead), it nevertheless tumbles forward with a logic and grace that’s truly Anco’s own, with heavily pitched cymbal smashes and a rotating vocal yelp. “Bleed” is a darker cut, with ominous spoken word giving way to shifting muddy tones and a refrain that goes “I must bleed”. Yet that slightly awestruck sense is still there, in the way the song feels slowed down, blissed out.
“On A Highway” is the most conventionally arranged thing on here, with guitars that recall a little of the sound they would end up plundering on their follow-up, “Centipede HZ”, and synths that shift around like moving tiles in a difficult videogame. With a slight tweak, this could probably be a radio-friendly pop song. Then it ends with the rousing tumult of “I Think I Can”, once more a rousing stomp that sounds more in the vein of their work on “Feels”.
And that’s it. Lyrically, all of these songs are about escape, be that escaping from something, or using something as an escape; whether it’s the songwriting process, or into daydreams, or pain, or driving away, or music, or a children’s book, all of these songs have that commonality.
Yet the cumulative effect could not be more different; these songs have a magnificent, grounded quality, and listening to them can leave one feeling lucky. This is AnCo at their most wide-eyed and attentive, and they have crystallised those qualities into unforgettable songs.