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.