Animal Collective

Ballet Slippers

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While almost every album they made took a wildly different approach, all of Animal Collective's strengths congealed on their 2009 watershed album Meriwether Post Pavilion. Early albums hinted at a core of melody but buried it so deeply beneath noisy experimentation or abstract folkiness, it often got lost. A perfect synthesis of electronic production, big beats, and Animal Collective's uniquely friendly weirdness, Meriwether Post Pavillion finally delivered a more accessible articulation of the band's fractured pop vision. Ballet Slippers collects select live performances from the tour the band did in the summer of 2009 in support of what became many fans' favorite album of theirs. The group had long been prone to playing out new material months or years before it was recorded, giving fans a sneak preview of works in progress rather than playing familiar hits. Ballet Slippers finds the band in a slightly different mode of this uncommon live approach. The track listing includes versions of nine of Meriwether Post Pavilion's 11 songs and a few radically revised versions of songs from other albums. Where the studio album's direct stabs of pop and electronica cut through the band's often murky sonic walls, live they stretch out and explore the murk. Extensive, meandering intros on otherwise poppy jams like "Summertime Clothes" and "In the Flowers" seem to want to stall and dally as long as possible before getting around to the song as the audience knows it. "Brothersport" lingers in a minimal rhythmic introduction, slowly introducing samples from the song before blasting off when the beat drops. The band play in the spaces that bridge their songs, often improvising wordless vocals or diving deep into harsher noise textures. When revisiting material from their 2005 album Feels, they go even further off the map. "Banshee Beat" floats suspended in midair for over ten minutes, and the usually upbeat, jittery acoustic song "Who Could Win a Rabbit" becomes manic and disconnected. As a document of a band that's always changing, Ballet Slippers excels at capturing the conflict that must have existed for Animal Collective after turning in their most successful and adored work. It might be too challenging for the casual listener, but that particular challenge is intrinsic to most of Animal Collective's work.

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