splendid > reviews > 9/13/2005
Animal Collective (featuring Vashti Bunyan)
Animal Collective (featuring Vashti Bunyan)
Prospect Hummer

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "It's You"

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The astonishing thing about Vashti Bunyan is not that she made a single album in the 1960s, disappeared for several decades and was finally rediscovered by the psych-folk music she helped inspire. No, the astonishing thing about Vashti Bunyan is that even now, in her sixties, after half a lifetime hidden away in the Hebrides, she sings like a fragile angel. She sounds exactly like she did in her dog-cart days, all breath and purity and crystal high notes. Like a time capsule, she was unearthed just when the world was ready for her, intact and curiously relevant. Today she sings alongside bearded icons like Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective as if they were contemporaries.

Prospect Hummer took shape when the members of Animal Collective saw Bunyan at her Royal Albert Hall performance. They immediately intuited how well Bunyan's airy, water-pure folk-tones would mesh with long strummed guitar chords, how their skewed campfire harmonies spiked with odd bouts of percussion would fit with her fairy-queen reserve. Neither artist was much interested in traditional song structure. The tracks would be all shimmery atmosphere and liquid intuition, shapeless on first listen, but gaining hold after half a dozen spins. The resulting record could sing you to sleep like your mother, ushering in green and yellow dreams of the world's beginnings.

The EP begins with "It's You", in which Bunyan, her voice full of ancestral memories and Elvish fancy, calls out washes of harp and tentative piano notes. It sounds like she's a tuning fork, evoking tones and resonances from her collaborators. The track never really jells into an actual song, but it is hypnotically beautiful all the same. The title track is more conventionally structured, anchored with percussion and strummed guitars. Animal Collective's hallmark altered voice sounds merge organically into the rhythm, leaving space for ethereal layers of Bunyan's voice. There's an experimental edge to this cut, the scratches and bounce of its time signature ceasing suddenly for a wonderful "wah wah wah" chorus.

"Baleen Sample" builds on the earlier cuts, its seagull cries and strummed overtones ebbing and flowing in a way that's both beautiful and challenging. After a minute or two, you hear steel drums almost buried in the mix, sadder, less festive than they usually are. This is the only track where Bunyan doesn't sing. Closer "I Remember Learning How to Drive" again incorporates those steel drum pings into its staccato rhythms. Bunyan's voice floats over this more conventionally written song, echoing its downsloping guitar line precisely and regularly.

Very few collaborations merge sensibilities as smoothly and beautifully as this one, combining Bunyan's deep-rooted rural forms with Animal Collective's loosely structured experimentalism. Prospect Hummer is a short, thought-provoking glimpse into the links between 1960s folk and the current electronically enhanced psych-folk scene.



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