Monday, February 16, 2009

The new Animal Collective album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is getting acclaim far and wide, at least in the music-criticism outlets that I've seen. Response to it has been more mixed in terms of people I talk to: Some might wish for a less-poppy record. I think the vocals are mixed too smoothly and are occasionally too high in the mix. But this complaint, as I voiced it, feels related to what I'm hearing from a lot of other people. Here in Baltimore, the small segment of people I talk to is put off by the lyrics, finding them silly and unrelatable.

Which I think says more about the faults of them then it does about the faults of the band. The lyrics are really straightforward, yes, but it still feels like a progression of a spirit of openness. But there's an audience of sort of inarticulate jammers that just want to get high and make music that Animal Collective has cultivated over the length of a few albums, that they themselves were for a while there, that is now left alienated by songs about wanting to provide for children. I think there's a segment of the Animal Collective fanbase that's being presented with a future that makes them deeply uncomfortable.

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how art influences its audience. It seems like it is only musicians that are afforded the chance to say things like "Pavement were a really big influence on me," although this could be because they are most likely to be interviewed and asked about such things. I guess there are a great number of people blogging about comics who will admit that Grant Morrison's The Invisibles was an influence on their adolescence. Music is not so directly narrative, and so is usually talked about in terms of stylistic influence, despite the fact that people project narratives on to music as a means of relating to it.

This becomes interesting in the wake of hip-hop being the main force in pop culture for the last ten or so years. People have grown up with those narratives. What's odd to me is that it's a thing that youth can relate to so fully. Not because of racial issues, but because of confidence issues: I associate youth and adolescence primarily with insecurity, and find it hard to picture someone in the middle of all that attaching themselves to "Swagger Like Us," unless it serves as some kind of shield. Which is fine, except for the fact that there then is this narrative embedded within it, which people follow, and then -this is a complicated metaphor I don't want to mix- become embedded in the metal of it. And I think there then becomes this detached/debauched/anti-spiritual world that seems ever-more-lacking in innocence.

(There also rises, in response to this, a weird indie-gone-mainstream twee culture that's not particularly interesting either. Although I think that Animal Collective is still too sonically weird to be placed into that category as much as something off the Garden State soundtrack.)

At this point in the blog so far I have no real idea of how to connect these two different ideas and culture, and am hoping that by writing further I can make a thesis connecting these two things.

I would like to think that the last few Animal Collective records are just a little further along in the narrative that a lot of noise records are at. Consider for a moment that Hollindagain and Here Comes The Indian are, sort of, noise records, that they were touring with Black Dice around these times, and this was just shortly after Black Dice had stopped being a hardcore band that was punching their audience in the face. This could be the moment, then, after total freedom tears apart the city in a whirlwind and people now need to live on, and raise the next generation in the sun. There's also a narrative arc to the whole career of The Boredoms that sort of leads to this conclusion as well.

That moment where people can't move on to the next stage in the narrative is kind of always a little bit of a bummer though. I guess we should be thankful that the underground allows for that sort of that growth in reverence for people who've been around for a while, whereas the mainstream offering up tales of nihilism keeps on refreshing itself before alternate messages can proliferate. The sonic conservativism that often accompanies such personal progress is kind of a bummer, but I don't think that charge can really be levied at Animal Collective, who have enough background in folk music that that could've been moved into a duller direction if they had been those kinds of dudes.

14 comments:

Brian said...

The new Black Dice record rules too.

I haven't heard the Eric Copeland 12", "Alien In A Garbage Dump," that I think is to form a full-length CD with the songs of another, unannounced=as=of-yet 12". If Ben Parrish is reading this, I would like to ask him how that is.

everylabel said...

hahaha... i'm reading this. i haven't heard the eric copeland 12" yet either. i know, i know... i'm totally slacking. i downloaded the new black dice album and have listened to it once so far. not because i've lost interest but because i haven't had the time! i'll probably put it on after i post this comment, and i'm sure i'll buy it the week it comes out because they're one of the musical loves of my life....
you know, i've only listened to the new animal collective all the way maybe ONCE. is that bad? strawberry jam didn't taste as good as i was hoping. not because i'm weirded out by lyrics about family, etc, etc. (i like that kind of shit) but because i don't like how avey tare seems to be in "lead singer" mode these days. guess i'm more of a panda fan. weird, huh? also i guess i'm too busy buying blank dogs 7"s and out of print half japanese records on ebay...

bp baggins said...

also i think it's so weird how animal collective's audience has changed so much. people (the "indie stream"/main stream think of them in same league as fleet foxes or something now. i don't want anything to do with this new adult alternative stuff!

also i was wondering what you would think about my new term "diy vs. indie." i guess it can replace "indie vs alternative" from the 90's now that indie means major label and "fake indie label" stuff like radiohead, weezer, fleet foxes, hold steady, etc etc. upper middle class white career rocker dudes... i probably think way too much about this stuff, huh?

laura said...

holy shit, brian, this is something i've been kind of trying to sort out but it's really difficult to take apart.
this morning i was thinking about the difference between stephen malkmus and sonic youth in terms of their interaction with "what the kids are doing" in music, what's new, etc. malkmus said some things in his recent interview with pitchfork about how he doesn't really know what's going on in portland's basement shows, he wasn't involved in the scene. there was this really uncomfortable tone to the conversation that made it seem like he was kind of proud to be antiquated. the interviewer asked questions of the "are you treated as a STAR?" variety and malkmus almost sounded like, though he wasn't, (and had just admitted to not partaking in the places that would likely lead to star-treatment) he was kind of disappointed or surprised by it. i might have read too much into it but the dialogue made me really uncomfortable, maybe due to the fact that this is someone who is still making records and playing music. when you start thinking about influence, especially, it seems weird to be so closed off to what's happening. i mention this not to highlight the fact that he doesn't go to house shows, but more as an example of someone essentially saying they'd grown up.

but then you have a band like sonic youth whose version of growing up includes following and being excited about young bands, and kim gordon does things like design clothing to be sold at urban outfitters for moms. and they're not antiquated or hard to relate to yet they also kind of reek of the adulthood that animal collective is just starting to talk about from the periphery. what gives?

i guess what i really feel like saying is that it doesn't have to be linear. why not get off to hollindagain AND merriweather? as someone that really, really loves both of those records i have trouble understanding this idea that you grow up and out of the noise into the stuff they're doing now, with a baby on your hip. i feel like AC is actually a really good example of the fact that the two sounds (and more importantly, for this conversation, the things they represent) are not mutually exclusive. i don't find them to be dismissive about their earlier stuff, and neither is sonic youth, whereas malkmus i sometimes find mildly off-putting in interviews because he does seem to view this as linear

laura said...

also funny: my way of articulating this in my blog, before seeing this, was through a picture of kim gordon and thurston moore together

benjamin said...

i think malkmus kind of thinks of himself as a star and is bummed that people don't think of him this way. why else would he have so many portland celebrities in his new music video? i got to say that for the most part the only thing i get out of pavement when i listen to them these days is nostalgia for how much i liked them earlier. then i remember i was miserable in high school. weird, i know...

laura said...

yeah, i think he definitely thinks of himself as a star. i remember seeing him open for radiohead in 2003 and feeling really weird about the lack of attention that was given to him as an opener. and i was there with dan duffy, which makes that story funny.

i've heard other people talk about the pavement nostalgia but somehow that isn't an issue for me. they're a band that i go pack to periodically and fall in love with all over again, whereas, actually, radiohead is completely nostalgic and reminds me of hating high school too.

benjamin said...

yeah, i can't even get the nostalgia thing w/ radiohead anymore. i just think that i wish people weren't so convinced they invented modern music when i hear them. what can i say? i'm a negative guy.

benjamin said...

although i actually think music is in a great spot right now over all and that getting older rules, so go figure... shit, i'm leaving lots of comments on this blog post.

Alex said...

I would have to echo the silly and unrelatable complaint. Remember on sung tongs how they were all like "meeeeoooooooww, kitties!"? That is like, totally me in 2004. I can feel that and it's sincere and very straight faced. I get that. But "I want to walk around with you?" what the fuck is that. That's fucking stupid.

Alien in a garbage dump is kinda meh. I dunno, the long title track was kinda cool. I'd say most of hermaphrodite has it beat tho. But yeah, how about that new bd album. Fucking glazin, man.

Brian said...

I'm not even sure Glazin is the best song on Repo. I'm real fond of La Cucaracha.

And Laura: Obviously, I don't think liking Merriweather is somehow a more mature thing than liking an older record. I tend to associate maturity with being able to embrace all sorts of things and so find amusement with people being alienated by lyrical content.

Although I would maybe argue the maturity of Sonic Youth due to how I see Thurston's noise/tape collecting as arising partly out of some romanticization of youth and newness. Most people I know who make noise music and have had Thurston try to track down a tape or praise a record in Bull Tongue seem amused by it, because it doesn't really make sense for anyone to be that obsessed with having every crappy little noise release that comes down the pike.

laura said...

oh, no, i wasn't saying that you felt that way. i was commenting on an either/or attitude that is largely connected to this idea of growing out of things, which a lot of people reject, and i get that, but in doing so it's easy to ignore the progression that happens.

for example, if thurston moore was truly a weirdo about collecting new stuff as a means to satisfy an idealized notion of youth, i don't think there'd be albums like rather ripped, you know? i used SY as an example because i think they achieve balance really naturally. if they were continually releasing "goo," though...

Edmond Guillaume said...

Brian, lately I've been thinking about noise music and alienation and your post touched a little upon that. I've noticed a growing number of those jumping on the anti-Merriweather bandwagon as a ridiculous form of protest/anxiety, especially in Olympia.

AC's gradual shift from distant noise to poppy sunlit vocality is suddenly alienating their former audience, I find, and it's absurd that these people can't recognize a maturing band exploring a recently-discovered voice.

ET said...

this is unrelated but since I know how much you love Rupert Murdoch, have you seen this cartoon in today's Post?

http://www.nypost.com/delonas/delonas.htm

yeah, that's pretty fucked up.