25 January 2009

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Or: ageing and the unavoidable art of comparison
2009, Domino Recording Co.


The subtitle’s a tad less catchy, though. I’ve been wondering, for the last few days, how to go about this. On Wednesday, I started thinking about how I should probably have made a small post about this album each day, to document the evolution of my relationship with MPP. That’s hindsight for you.

So I shall begin at the beginning. Back when I was an illicit downloader, one of the many albums I snagged in my virtual tuna net was Sung Tongs, the 2004 Animal Collective album. I remember very little about it, other than I hated it, and hated the name (unaware of any etymological resonance that may have inspired its choice).

I bore such a grudge that, not only did I not listen to an AC album for the next four years, or any related artists (Excepter… excepted), but I even put off hearing Bloody Panda, who had nothing to do with them. OK, so Bloody Panda turned out to be a fantastic doom band: lessons learned and all that.

When I saw FACT mention that AC had suddenly become awesome, inlet my guard down. Well, it was a combination of that and their likeable interview in the end-of-year Wire. Already ordering the Tricky album from Domino, I decided to MPP on the order and get the free postage.

As this was a pre-order, weeks past and I wasn’t that bothered. The album arrived on 13 January and, my turntable not connected, I still wasn’t bothered. There was something weird going on at Domino’s digital download site, so my WAV files didn’t come when I wanted them. whatever.

I eventually downloaded the WAVs, one by one, on the evening of 14 January, and figured I may as well stick them on my portable music player.

I think I ended up listening to it on 20 January. I’m not sure what I did in the meantime. There was the Campbell and Lanegan record, but otherwise I’m not sure. I think I may even have first listened to it using the abysmal default white iPhone ear buds. I do not recommend this behaviour. Despite this delay, and the aural handicap, brilliance shone through.



If you’re the kind of person who knows my wordy style and scans my posts, this is the bit where you should probably start reading. The preamble wasn’t too bad though.

The reason why I would like to have written daily posts is because of the way I got into this album. It was like being sixteen again. Example: when I got into Kerbdog, I heard one song and loved it. I couldn’t wait for the release date of the album. I taped over the first four minutes of a compilation tape I had made myself, just so I could hear that song on the go.

Then I got the album and I loved all of it. And that wasn’t the only one that caused such a reaction in me around then. Albums by Metallica, Faith No More, Mark Lanegan, Kyuss, Karma To Burn, Kilgore and Devin Townsend were all massive hits with me, often usurping each other in my all-time top 10. I would obsess over albums, listening to them every day for weeks. I’d be slightly upset when that eventual non-listen day arrived.

You get older, you hear more music. Scenes come and go. At some point you decide music, as a whole, isn’t quite as good as it was at some point in your youth and that’s it. The top 10 is virtually impregnable.

A friend of mine once mentioned a study he’d read about, that said we are more susceptible to the effects of music between the ages of 17 and 24. The more I thought about that, the more it made sense. I was born in 1980. My favourite albums of the 1990s are generally in the latter half of the decade. Most of my faves from this decade, I heard between 2000 and 2003.

This concerned me. As a teen I would look at men in their thirties and forties, the ones who didn’t have any true favourite albums after 1976. I’d pity them. What kind of existence is that, I reasoned, when you don’t expect to hear any new music that blows you away. That must be pretty depressing.

You can see where I’m going with this, right? Well I could see where I was going when, with each passing year, Through Silver in Blood remained my favourite album. I never expect it to be beaten, but I hope it might be. Other than that, the last album to trouble my top 10 came out in 2003. There was a thrilling album in 2006, but the passage of time has been unsympathetic to its charms. I’ll have to start listening to it more, actually.

So when ‘in the Flowers’ opened the album, my ears pricked up, interested. It was good, but there was something else there: depth. There was a sense of in-the-mix euphoria running through it, but not to the point that my mind began racing. It was more like the sound I’d imagine the Arcade Fire to make, if they were actually as good as the hype suggested.

Then ‘My Girls’ came on. I had actually forgotten that FACT had singled this one out as a highlight, and that the Guardian described it as ‘impossibly blissful’. All I knew was the moment, and it was good. I was nearing my bus stop on the morning slog through the traffic, but I couldn’t help grinning, broadly, at how great this song was.

The funny thing was I only really noticed it from the halfway point, when the ‘chorus’ comes in. I love when vocals are well arranged; it’s my musical soft spot. This is one of the reasons I love Lift To Experience so much: Josh Pearson knows how to lay out a tune for more than one line of vocals it’s one of the reasons I love the alternative rock of Kerbdog and Alice In Chains so much. It’s the reason that my heart races every time I hear ‘Otherside’, by an otherwise mediocre Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And this had it all. Vocals complementing other vocals in a round. Tight, layered harmonies that rose at the right points. ‘My Girls’ adheres to that basic rule of script-writing: ‘cut out everything but the good bits’. It is just ‘good bits’, and that is the best way I can find of describing the song.

I had to get off the bus, but I was like a kid again, telling people about the great song I had just heard. I walked home that evening, and listened to the majority of the album. It was a revelation. Whether the sleep-in of ‘Daily Routine’, the ‘techno Beach Boys’* of ‘Also Frightened’, or the tribal cute-Underworld drug-rush of ‘Lion in a Coma’, I was bowled over.

Yesterday I ‘only’ listened to Merriweather Post Pavilion once. Have played ‘My Girls’ to lapsed eighties rockers now into chilled out soul, to mature punk rockers, and to Orb fans who have taken loads of drugs: they all think it’s great. I decided it had to be released as a single, just so I could have my most certain single of the year since ‘Crazy’ in 2006 (I had decided on that one in December 2005). It’s coming out, but probably unrelated to my insistence.

I also decided that they have to play near me, and perform ‘My Girls’, so I can go absolutely loopy; I got the tickets for a within-walking-distance gig the other day.

I’m now past that initial shock of finding the album to be so good, I was telling Lea the other day. what’s really shocking is the fact that I am still bowled over by how good it is. Will it still be my love in December? In 2012? Who knows. I normally tend to go a bit off albums released early in the year, only to return to their embrace at a later date (the last Jaga and Shining albums, for example).

But who cares. Tonight, I don’t imagine anything bettering MPP this year. I told that to a friend, who described my statement as ‘optimistic’. I disagree; I’d be optimistic to think there could be another album this good in 2009. maybe Converge, maybe Ahab, maybe Coalesce, Propagandhi or Mastodon. Maybe not.

In the words of Jaga, all I know is tonight.


P.S. On re-reading this post, I am aware I haven't actually compared the album to anything. That will come in time.


* Not a serious description but, when a friend at work insisted I describe it to him before sticking the headphones on his lugs, I ended up saying ‘like Beach Boys… but techno’. Of course it’s not, but I now have a fondness for that phrase.

1 comment:

  1. Mostly liked your post. Funny my good friend told me about several names of bands he didn't like, this being one, and would not listen. Never thought about that. Anyway
    You showed up on Google's news alert dealy so that's cool.
    I have a music news site at Lakin Report. Let me know if you come across anything you think I should know about.
    Cheers

    ReplyDelete

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