Merriweather Post Pavilion
For those readers who are not absolutely pathetic music nerds and haven’t been obsessively trolling blogs for the last few weeks, let me give you a quick recap. Animal Collective, up to this point, have been the darling poster children for any music snob. Unquestionably talented by anyone who has any taste (so they say), their brand of electro-noise-freak folk was pretty much a given as a good thing. What I mean by this is that if you found yourself at a cocktail party in Williamsburg and someone asked you what music you like, and you said Animal Collective, you’d most likely get an approving head nod at the very least. You couldn’t really go wrong with the group, which is made up of four childhood friends (though they frequently perform/record as any variation of those four members). A rare story to be sure in this day and age – grade school classmates becoming an incredibly successful indie rock band – and a story that makes it extra-easy to mystify this indie outfit’s musical origins.
That brief back story is particularly important to understand the hype that was generated for MPP. Being an indie-snob standard band, any album put out by Animal Collective will have a certain amount of hype attached to it. But in the past few weeks, things went from totally reasonable to totally out of control. It all started when Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear (Another band who are pretty much in the same echelon of indie-snob darlings as Animal Collective, though perhaps a bit more accessible. Both have played the late-night talk show circuit, so it’s hard to say exactly. More on this band later.) posted a leaked track from MPP on his blog, saying that it was pretty much the greatest thing ever. Then, he was legally asked to remove it and apologize, which he did, but then he also posted the letter asking him to take it down. Then, Bradford Cox somehow got involved because he’s also in this type of indie-royalty band and didn’t want to be left out. Then some insane person hacked into Animal Collective’s e-mail and e-mailed Bloggers telling them they wanted help leaking their album, two weeks before it was about to come out. (Please refer to pretty much any music website ever for more details on any of these events.) Not to mention the fact that Domino records managed to organize an MPP release party in almost every major city. By the time this album was supposed to officially come out, it was more talked about than Plaxico Burress and Ronald Burress combined.
Then, Pitchfork (semi-predictably) gave the darn thing a 9.6. The highest rating that any record has gotten since five years ago, when they gave Arcade Fire’s Funeral the same rating. And of course, this set everyone off again. The conversation basically boils down to two camps. Camp A consists mostly of people saying that not only is MPP already the best album of 2009, but also probably the most important album of all time ever. And those in Camp B generally have something to say along the lines of, “Pitchfork is crap. This album is fine. Who cares? Animal Collective is way overrated. Grizzly Bear’s album is gonna be way better, but Pitchfork will give it a worse rating. Did we mention Pitchfork is crap?”
To me, this whole thing comes down to two questions, much like these two blog-camps. 1. Is the album any good, and if so, how good? and 2. Why am I even writing about Pitchfork if it really doesn’t matter? Because both camps have a point. Let’s deal with camp B first. If the whole point of music is the music, then why does all this other stuff matter? Why have I spent over 600 words not talking about the actual record? Because it’s possible that just because Pitchfork gave the album such a high rating and it has been so talked about in terms of this rating, that it will in fact go down as a classic album. The way that this album was released and the treatment of it afterwards will be incredibly important to indie rock. If MPP does manage to break into mainstream markets, then Pitchfork will become more important than ever, and music blogs will have to fundamentally question how it is exactly they wish to proceed with so much power. That’s why it’s important to recognize the series of events surrounding the album, not just the music itself (in this case).
And finally, we can get to the point. Yes, the album is good. Very, very good. Listen to it. My guess is, if you have any sort of open mind, you’ll either like it or love it. A lot of people have been saying that this is Animal Collective’s “pop” album, or Animal Collective’s attempt to cross over into mainstream. Those people are crazy. The key here is their Water Curses EP. When you put that next to Strawberry Jam, you can see exactly how the group arrived at this sublime point. The songs are almost all upbeat, under six minutes, and somehow triumphant. That doesn’t mean that they’re pop-y. In fact, the production quality of the album is so bright and clear that the group’s multi-layered sounds are allowed to be the most intricate that they’ve ever been. The only thing that makes this album more “accessible” than others is that all the songs are fun. I can imagine dancing to all of them. I have to admit, this is the first album without guitars that I’ve been able to really sink my teeth into in the same way that I did the first time I listened to, say, Tommy or even The Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday.
Lyrically and vocally Avey Tare and Panda Bear have truly hit their stride. Their voices glide over the ever-expanding soundscapes they create, their words dealing mostly with bodies, love, and strangely enough, fatherhood. In fact, if I had to characterize this album, I might call it Animal Collective’s love album. There is someone out there who the members of the group want to exclusively walk around with, have children with, and be alone in their apartment with (all lyrics from the album). The songs are so beautiful that it makes me wish they had written them about me. And for my personal standards, that’s when I know an album is good. When it gets at me like that and I can’t explain why. No hype or review or rating can tell me that.
Jan 12 2009 at Koko in London, UK
Jan 13 2009 at Glasgow School of Arts in Glasgow, Scotland
Jan 14 2009 at Club Academy in Manchester, UK
Jan 15 2009 at Concorde 2 in Brighton, UK
Jan 16 2009 at Bataclan Music Hall in Paris, France