Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 5 Albums of 2009: #4

Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion

Way back in January, Animal Collective released their eighth studio album and, twenty days into 2009, already cemented their place at the top of just about everyone's yearly list. Named after a concert venue near their hometown of Baltimore (marking the second time the Maryland city has made this list in as many entries), Merriweather Post Pavilion was a massive hit for the psychedelic quartet, launching them into the public eye. Even Entertainment Weekly commented on the album, saying: "While it won't land the band the opening slot on a Coldplay tour, it cleaves closer to Person Pitch's more listener-friendly aesthetic." Who the hell knew Entertainment Weekly was into Panda Bear?

So why, with all this acclaim and attention, is Animal Collective's latest release sitting so relatively low on my list? It's only half so that I don't look too much like an unrepentant, Pitchfork-worshipping hipster, I promise. Actually, the rest of the next part of that Entertainment Weekly quote pretty much hits my feelings on the head, saying that the record abandoned "the self-indulgent impulses that sometimes muddied last year's Strawberry Jam for an album full of effervescent, transportive oddity."

But wait... that's a good thing, right? Well, if I agreed, it probably would be. Don't get me wrong, I think that Strawberry Jam is definitely pretty damn self-indulgent and muddied at times--I just also happen to think that Merriweather Post Pavilion is even more so. Lots of critics have touted it as the band's "most accessible" outing, and they are right in so much as that the songs take on more traditional pop structures and have fewer repeated random noises sent through Geologist's Kaoss Pad phaser. But since when does making an album catchier make an album better? Is Rihanna inherently a better musician than Sunn 0))) because you can sing along to her songs? Chuck Klosterman would probably argue for it, but who the fuck cares what he thinks? (Or what you think, either, Hunter Korchak.)

The production quality of Merriweather Post Pavilion is what's got me down. It sounds like it was recorded on the bottom of a river. My favorite Animal Collective album is probably Sung Tongs--layered but precise, sweepingly psychedelic but careful in its production, giving each sound it includes the room to breathe. There are moments of clarity on the new disc, where everything focuses, and beautiful music emanates from the speakers--the chorus of "My Girls" for example, or the last verse of "Summertime Clothes"--but in general, the album sounds messy and poorly mixed.

When I first listened to it after having a friend send me a pre-release pirated copy, I thought that there was, perhaps, something wrong with the version I'd received. It sounded like someone had purposely fucked with it so to discourage pirating. Too much was going on under the voices and melodies which even themselves are over-reverbed half to death. But it turns out that was the way Avey & Co. intended for it to sound. It's strange, especially after listening to their newest EP, Fall Be Kind, released just one month ago, where this noisy background bubbling has been stripped away to the point that the band now sounds kind of naked. How about finding some middle ground again, eh? And yet, for all my negativity, they're still Animal Collective, so whatever they end up putting out is inevitably going to be better than just about everything else that a year has in store for music. It doesn't exactly "advance the dialogue on pop and electronic music" (yes, someone on a messageboard I frequent said that; no, I have no idea what that even means), but it's certainly good enough to hit number four on the countdown at least.

Animal Collective - My Girls

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