In the underbrush of indie rock dwells a woolly beast that, like many woolly beasts, goes by many names. The most awkward, and thus most widely accepted (I've heard there is a class on it at UCLA) is "New Weird America" where a network of guitar and bongo toting burnouts found each other over a love of Jonh Fahey, the Incredible String Band, the Folkways Anthology of American Folk music (the same one that got Bob Dylan's fire lit back in the stone age) and trance inducing experimentation (and a secret longing to be T. Rex) have created an array of bands and sub bands on exquisitely dodgy artist-run labels that make, what I think, is some truly vital music. The two pillars of this camp of rovers is King of the Butterfly People Devendra Banhart, who can still blow your mind despite all his accolades coming from every critic on the planet, including myself, and Brooklyn's Animal Collective.
Animal Collective, populated with gremlins with the names like Panda Bear, Avery Tare, The Geologist, and Deakan, creates what can be best described as extended campfire music, where acoustic strums and sing song Cumbaya harmonies are exploded into delay and overlays creating a beautiful wash of melody in their songs. Fans like myself have been anxiously awaiting the follow-up to last year's ridiculously good Sung Tongs, and while I still am hungry for the album slated for the late fall, the brief EP Prospect Hummer, made primarily to back up the sweet vocals of forgotten sixties muse Vashti Bunyan (famous where she is known for making a single gossamer album Just Another Diamond Day eons ago, and then disappearing from site. Her re-emergence has been a rather successful pet project of both Banhart and the Collective) is a more than adequate snack.
Vashti's wavering voice waltzes with an intermittently raining twinkle of guitars and piano on "It's You" the first of four tracks here on this all too short EP. The way it flutters in and out of phase like a ghost passing through the walls is breathtaking sonic artistry, and production wise, a leap ahead from Sung Tongs' brambles and weeds. The title track gallops along like the best of the bands' previous works, its "whoa-whoa-whoa" harmonizing with Vashti's slight voice demonstrating this to be more of a meeting of like minds than a publicity stunt or wagon jumping. The Geologist, who I understand to have been absent from the session with Vashti, contributes the strongest piece of music to date that utilizes the Animal Collective sound. "Baleen Sample" indeed sounds like whale song pushing through a musical depiction of swirling masses of plankton and schools of glimmering fish. Its a perplexing mesmerizing piece of music that I wish would not stop at just under 5 minutes but would go on for hours.
This short visit comes to an end with "I Remember Learning How To Dive" where the idylls of youth are punctuated by what sounds like an egg timer, and Vashti and the band operate a closely geared mechanism, gently churning out the song. Like I said, this fragile thing is far too short, but with a new Animal Collective album coming in the year, and Vashti working on her first new record in decades, turning all the praise into action, this will have to tide us over.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
Memories are Now, is a bold and inventive collection from Jesca Hoop who says each new record begins with a musical identity crisis