Saturday, January 10, 2009

Merriweather Post Pavillion (Animal Collective) (2009)


Two years ago Animal Collective decided to play a little game of dare in the blogosphere and have the chips fall where they may. Both dares---the critically acclaimed Strawberry Jam and Person Pitch---were immense triumphs. Yet in the process of this revelry of sound was rooted a division that no one involved except them could foretell its outcome. Critics fell over themselves in praise of Person Pitch, hailing group member Panda Bear as the next electronic messiah in the process. Words were lavished upon its organic tone and Beach Boys-like sunny verses. In fact, this praise nearly drowned out the reception for Strawberry Jam, an album that naturally featured Panda Bear but just not on lead. This was seen as Avery Tare’s counterpunch, a stealthy directive that could only leave one leader standing. I, for one, fell for Strawberry Jam hard because it is their ‘pop’ album: a convincing juxtaposition of their hazy, water-logged sound and catchy lines. Amid this tussle though it became clear that aspiring electronic musician had a new model to emulate but still which direction would it be for them to follow?

The answer is, of course, the brilliant Merriweather Post Pavillion. This end result was always going to be the band’s to provide and instead of abandoning either ship, Animal Collective have cemented their union with the marriage of both pop and electronic sounds into one huge, larger-than-life apotheosis. One can always tell when a band has transgressed when their every release is seen and felt as a statement. As is their tradition, they gave hint of their resolve on the Water Curses EP last year but kept the real stunning stuff to themselves until now.

The album opens with the dreamy In the Flowers, a track that rumbles as if underwater with heavenly choruses being shouted out by the band. It’s the best thing here, with its potent poetry (‘if I could just leave my body for the night/ then we could be dancing/ no more missing you while I’m gone’) and seamless production matching its sombre, regretful tone. The track—indeed the entire album-- celebrates not just the restless New York energy that defines Animal Collective but also the precious memories and loved ones they’ve gathered along the way. The lucid song writing of Avery Tare and Panda Bear can claim the giddy heights of John Lennon/Paul McCarthy because what Merriweather Post Pavillion really excels at is manifesting the band’s personality; something most electronic groups cannot yet put forth on record.

This frees the band to experiment within a foiled sound that seemingly has become their own. Also Frightened overdubs itself more pointedly with each verse, with no apparent hook other than repeating its chorus and dragging its lines along to full psychedelic effect. Such audacity only comes from a band assured in its stature and not concerned with playing it safe. Even bolder is the anthem aspirations of songs like Bluish and My Girls, both swirl with heavy grooves and performed well in advance at concerts. Other tracks like Brother Sport reveal a personal side to the band with lines like, ‘I know it sucks that Daddy’s dumb/ open up your throat Matt/ support your brothers’. It’s more than poignant to hear Panda Bear address a personal issue on record like this (Brother Sport is for his brother, aimed to console for their father’s passing) but also vital to the process of life itself. Art does not stand outside of real life and Merriweather Post Pavillion triumphs by recognizing that and embracing it wholeheartedly.

Of course, it’s all very manipulative to a musical extent. Nothing about Merriweather is left to chance. Critics who may have felt the need to hesitate with the left-leaning Strawberry Jam have been buttered up into the Person Pitch comparison trap viciously thus can offer no opposition here. Hell, even Panda Bear has gone on record already to state that this is, in his view, the best thing they’ve ever assembled. As the reviews churn out expectedly greater than before (Pitchfork even went as far as to assign its mega-serious 9.6 rating) it is obvious that come year-end this opus will be highly regarded still. I call that a win for this group of friends who, rather than divide over creative styles, remain together to craft inimitable songs about their love of music. Now if only Deakin can pull himself together then the trio can become a foursome again. For now though this is a clear checkmate, a game over career move. Time for critics to unreservedly hand them their crown and a fork while they’re at it, the sooner for the band to start carving out their next fantastic sonic adventure. It may be very ealy in the year but I suspect already that a better album will not be released this year.


Thursday, January 1, 2009


Happy New Year to everyone who visits my blog. I thank you for checking it out and spreading the word. This year will see me using the blog even more to update my reviews and thoughts so please continue to read and feel free to comment.

It's taken me a while to post this second part of my list but I felt it important to do so. Though my top 10 has already been published in Bookends, this space allows me more words to express why I chose these tracks. Here goes:

Top 10 songs of 2008

1. 'Wait for the Summer' (Yeasayer):

I have put a youtube link up for this song already but if anyone who is familiar with the track will know of its majestic build-up only to be blown away by the Americana vocals that critics seem to think only Fleet Foxes used last year. The range of emotions covered by Yeasayer on the track are stunning; a clever, honest delving into a human mind, jealously guarding its love and self-conflict. But there is also obsession bordering on creepy here too, as manifested in lines like, 'it's an accidental fall/ and they won't suspect a thing at all'. Towards its end, the inevitable occurs: a lyrical murder beautifully smothered with lovely repetition.

2. 'Twinkle' (Erykah Badu):

How any serious critic could compile a top songs list last year without a Badu track is beyond me but it shows how little R&B is still thought of. Nonetheless, Badu's masterful assessment of the African-American experience shows how issues trancend generations. Writen before Obama would become the first non-white President, the track outlines how different ages view each other. When she croons, 'they say their grandfathers and grandmothers/ work hard for nothing/ and we still in this ghetto', it illustrates the economic hunger causing strain within the projects. The beauty of 'Twinkle' though is that Badu leaves it without judgment, just clear explanations on both sides. You listen to it though and the honesty of the music leaves you with only certain dread that things will never change.

3. Buriedfed (Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson):

If there was a better song of '08 that summed up those depressing days when you question existence, your friends and your sanity, then it slipped me big time. 'Buriedfed' is pessimistic, awaiting and choosing death instead of stubbornly clinging on. Robinson frames this desperation in couplets of different stories but no persona frightens more than when he shouts out, 'fuck you/ I just wanted to die'. Even up to its end, the conflicts are no less fraught with danger.

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4. 'Money Note' (Camille):

Rotating endlessly over non sequitors about Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Dolly Parton,'Money Note'is literally just that; an examination of divadom and its exclusiveness. Of course being French allows Camille to delve into the totally American concept without seeming dishonest but the smartness of the track is accompanied with her stylistic tricks that prove far more accomplished than the aformentioned superstars.

5. 'The Leash' (Xiu Xiu):

The male-to-female sexual transgression in popular music has no greater lyricist than Jamie Stewart and 'The Leash' is a brilliant stab at the resentment festered on both sides of this obsession. It is unreservedly queer--not in the way that Antony Hegary is--but Stewart can frame tunes that both sexes can recognize their foibles in. History is replete with men rejecting fellow men as lovers, denying that part of themselves that readily is seen as weakness. Stewart frames 'The Leash' from the view of the forlorn lover who is at one hurt yet understanding. 'God had made your sweetheart wrong/ born to suffer/born only to die', he croons in one couplet. Yet there is urgency to resolve too; the track ends with, 'but you cannot deny me as a woman/ oh ensign/ I was your woman'. Disturbing yet morbidly fascinating.

6. 'Alla This' (Ani DiFranco):

A vicious yet sweet anti-war, anti-branding, anti-sexist track that restores the feminine mystique only DiFranco seems to hold up, years after being out in the fields. It figures such a complex artist would not be able to do a ballad decked out with only personal views on, say, such pastoral things like the changing of the season. Not Ani, not ever. Here she swipes organized religion, George W Bush and just men on a whole. Whew!

7. 'Sincerely, Jane' (Janelle Monae):

A big part of why my trend of '08 was 'return to art' is this magnificent track by Monae, a visionary who makes the R&B flock like Ciara, Beyonce, et al look as if they really are not even trying. Whereas those musicians are still fumbling to focus on anything other than themselves, Monae's concern is the projects and spiritual upliftment. 'The way we live/ the way we die/ what a tragedy/ I'm so terrified', she laments on the chorus as the Cindy Mayweather persona who is the chronicler of the experience.

8. 'The Healer' (Erykah Badu):

I'm still grappling with the fact that cokemachineglow actually had Badu atop their year-end album list. It's unheard of that a R&B record would beat the likes of TV on the Radio and Fleet Foxes on a publication that is skewered towards rock music but that is the cool thing about Badu; her music transcends genres. That's why she can take apart hip/hop the way she does on 'The Healer' and proclaim it, ironically, its own worst enemy. History notes always that the oppressed turn around and become oppressors. This haunting middle finger is thrown yet not even she can deny that the bent other four fingers on the hand will rise up one day to claim their fame too.

9. 'DVNO' (Justice):

Following up in some huge footsteps, 'DVNO' achieves its aim easily. Justice are a tricky proposition yet juxtaposing beats and repetition is easy enough but you need real genius to get these booty-shaking results.

10. The Only Bones that Show' (Baby Dee):

Dee rasps along, guttural yet determined as is if pouring out this track is the inly thing left to do in this uncaring world.