GloamSticks

A music blog, reviews and comment from an overly opiniated 26 year old London bloke

I don’t get Animal Collective, am I stupid? September 3, 2009

An Animal Collective fan (artists impression)

An Animal Collective fan (artist's impression)

I’ve posted before about guilt in music listening habits. It’s probably something I should have shaken by now – people like what they like – but from an early age I’ve had a sense of what I am supposed to like, that’s quite apart from what I actually like.

It’s something I suspect every music fan suffers from to a degree. I read an enamoured review of a new album, one that tells me I “absolutely must listen to this”. I start to believe that if I don’t, or do but don’t love it, the insinuation is that I’m not a proper music fan. Nay, I am ignorant, perhaps even stupid.

Neurotic right? How can anyone take that from a harmless album review?

I became heavily interested in music at 13 with the release of OK Computer, so I’ve always figured myself as a reasonably intelligent music fan. I’ve always tried to read intelligent music journalism, so got very into Pitchfork a few years ago. I read their reviews of the latest geeks with beards and a synthesized harpsichord with a convert’s exaggerated enthusiasm, laughed at their brutal dismissal of bands like Black Kids. Pah! Melody? Pah! Songs you can sing along too? Pah! That’s for the pop-munching moronic hoards.

But a sense of unease was underlying all this (and it wasn’t because of their positivity about Lilly Allen, I successfully dismissed that as a bizarre quirk, only increasing their perceived all knowing – they must have seen something I didn’t). I quite liked Black Kids. Yes, their debut had a few weak tracks, they’re not about to release a genre-meshing-game changing-magna-opus written on African finger xylophones, but they’ve got good poppy songs you can dance to.

I also wasn’t doing very well at getting into that staple Pitchfork band, Animal Collective. Or Panda Bear for that matter. After repeated listens to Strawberry Jam and Person Pitch I was finding I could see the brilliance in bits and pieces of what they did, the harmonies, the rhythms, but none of it hung together enough to keep me interested. None of the tracks had what I felt necessary to be likeable – a hook, either through melody, or some kind of structural musical pay off.

I followed the ridiculous hyperbole around Merriweather Post Pavillion (what a daft name, for a start) excitedly. This had happened with another Pitchfork band, I hadn’t been able to get into TV on the Radio’s Cookie Mountain, but then they released the ‘more accessible’ (read: better) Dear Science and hey presto I had a new second favourite band, for that week anyway. This was Animal Collective’s Dear Science! It wasn’t just Pitchfork banging on about it either, Drowned in Sound, the Observer Music Monthly, even the NME – who normally will only get behind a band if they have the pop sensibilities of the Vengaboys, as long as they’re in skinny jeans.

So I listened. Hmm. Listened again. Still nothing. Again? Nothing.

I thought I got it, it’s like the Beach Boys, right? Yeah, Brian Wilson was a genius. Copying him seems like a good idea. But the Beach Boys songs – despite being deceptively unconventional in instrumentation, percussion and structure – still had hooks by the bucket load. I still only come across the occassional hook in any of Animal Collective’s work. They may be more frequent in MPP than previous albums, but sorry, still nowhere near enough for me.

I like other bands that are supposedly part of the same scene. I’ve got Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest on regular rotation at the moment, but even they sound more than a little pretentious when they actually start talking about their music. You can almost hear the beards being stroked on the recording…

Am I stupid? Am I missing something? I just can’t help but feel time listening to Animal Collective is wasted, when it could be spent listening to something more satisfying. My opinion is that AC fan’s are in fact the fools, having been sucked into the Collective Furrowed Brow. I suspect that no one really likes them, they just tell their friends that so they can look clever, and no one questions their choice of facial hair or black horn rimmed glasses, despite no optometrical requirement of them. Really, when no one’s watching, their iPods pump Fall Out Boy into their hungry ears, and they sink into melodic gratification.

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Scotland: the greatest GMP per capita? July 17, 2009

Perhaps the greatest Scottish band of them all?

Perhaps the greatest Scottish band of them all?

Beatles, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin Vs Nirvana, The Beach Boys, The Velvet Underground – the debate of whether the US or UK has produced the greatest bands has raged on for many a year. But what if we distill this question by factoring in size of population, as often seen in judging great sporting nations, or evaluating economies, then what is the greatest nation on Earth? Which nation has the greatest Gross Musical Product per capita?

Well, obviously Britain. At times the list of my favourite bands has been weighted in favour of American artists, but never so much as the country’s population is weighted against the UK’s. I’m fairly sure only the most isolated Americans (or people who’s music taste is limited to one or two genres, like country, hip-hop or Uzbek shoe gaze) could possibly say different . If anyone can suggest another country, I’d like to hear about it…

But what if we were to concentrate this further, to within the UK? England, right? All the greatest bands, as mentioned above, plus there’s the Stones, the Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Blur… I could go on, for a very long time.

So what have Wales got? Manic Street Preachers, admittedly, made one and a half good albums. Stereophonics have probably got enough decent material to put one listenable album together (none of it has been recorded since 1999 mind). Feeder have some tunes, I even liked Funeral For A Friend’s first album (anyone who hasn’t Busted-jumped to Juneau is not qualified to argue against this). But then Catatonia, Lost Prophets and Tom Jones cancel all that hard work out. And really, Gold Against the Soul sort of self-cancelled out the Manics.

Northern Ireland: Ash and the Undertones, instantly erased by Snow Patrol.

So that leaves Scotland as contenders. Mogwai, Boards of Canada, Biffy Clyro, Frightened Rabbit, Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, The Twilight Sad, Idlewild, Seafood, Jesus and the Mary Chain, The Skids… how many people live in Scotland?! Currently according to the BBC, it’s 5,062,011. That’s almost one great band PER PERSON, a ratio of 1:1!* Wales have a population of 2.9 million, and only 1.2 great bands, so that makes their ratio 1:2,416,666.

So you might have noticed I may be being slightly biased here, and you might (if you’re really clever) have assimilated that my name probably indicates some kind of Scottish heritage. But seriously, let’s consider a country that has a similar population to Scotland, Finland. How many great Finnish bands do you know? More than the Scottish bands listed above? No. Nowhere near. Actually I can’t name one, sorry, world music guilt setting in…

Any other nations punching above their music to population weight? Sweden? Iceland? Sweden have Sounds Like Violence, The Hives, but a population of 9 mill. Iceland have Sigur Ros, Jakobinarina, Bjork, and a population of around 300,000. It’s good. It’s very good. But it’s still a ratio of 1:100,000, that’s 100,000 times worse than Scotland.

* Not scientifically calculated

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Coming to terms with World Music guilt June 13, 2009

There was a Guardian Music Weekly podcast quite a while ago which made me realise how wrong the concept of ‘world music’ is. I’ve railed against many a genre tag in my time (I remember being outraged at finding Onelinedrawing in the punk/metal section of HMV, presumably because Jonah Matranga used to be in Far) but it does seem beyond unfair that ‘world music’ seems to be the tag that’s attached to any music that doesn’t come from the US or UK.

Being a big liberal muso type, of course I believe that no genre or form of music could possibly be worthier than another. My theory has always been that if enough people like a certain kind of music, it’s got to be good, and only needs time spent listening to it to be appreciated. Of course sometimes too many people listening to an artist can be a sign that they’re actually especially awful, but for the most part it just takes time to appreciate something.

The thing is, is it bad to say I just don’t have time?

I’m sorry, but as much as I like to think of my music taste as fantastically broad, I’m not sure I’m going to get around to Malaysian nose pipe music, Nigerian alt-hip-hop-folk or Uzbek shoe gaze*. In all honesty, I do listen to a pretty broad variety of genres, but just about every artist is from the UK or US, with a selection from from Europe (and those artists are generally heavily influenced by UK or US artists).

Is that OK? Am I missing out? I haven’t listened to Amadou et Miriam, I’ve read about Tinariwen but what I’ve heard of them I’m not sure I get, and as for Manu Chao… well, what’s so good about bongos? Was Fela Kuti really as good a percussionist as John Bonham? And is Tony Allen actually that amazing? The drums in Good the Bad and the Queen added to the tracks in subtle ways that good percussion should, but was it really good enough for me to go and listen to his previous work?

What with it being cool for a while to say you’re like, totally Afrobeat now, I’m not sure I can be bothered to jump on the bandwagon. I love some of the results of genuine Afrobeat influence, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to finding out what these artists have been influenced by.

If it really is worth me not bothering to listen to the next Death Cab or Minotaur Shock album in favour of something with wind pipes, then I’ll do it. The guilt is too much. But otherwise, I’m just not sure I can be bothered…

Sorry…

* These genres are entirely invented, as far as I know anyway. I do not know nearly enough about world music to list one sub-genre, let alone three.

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