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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