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Diversion Enthusiast Society, est. 2007

Music Marathon 2009 – Part 1 (Animal Collective – Atlas Sound)

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Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Let me tell you about Animal Collective and me:  we have a bit of a history, going back to 2005’s Feels, an album I… liked, I suppose.  But the repetitive beats; the screamy, celebratory vocals; and that constant wash of echo over everything made it a challenge, and, when Strawberry Jam upped the ante on some of their least appealing elements in 2007, I was puzzled by the devout online fandom I saw.  Yet that same year, AC’s Panda Bear released Person Pitch, an album that took all of the stuff that I liked about Feels and did it better – wonderfully, even.  I was convinced that Mr. Bear (Noah Lennox to his friends) was the key to all of the good parts of Animal Collective’s sound and that he’d be better off if he’d lose the dead weight.

Not the case, it turns out.  On Merriweather Post Pavilion, the band brings the lessons of Person Pitch to bear (har har) on the overall Animal Collective sound and fuses it with a new talent for hooks.  I’ve suggested to Raina (my wife and co-blogger, if you just randomly happened upon this post) that “Summertime Clothes” could practically be a Shins song in its melody and structure (I should mention that she doesn’t buy it) – it’s only in its instrumentation that it strictly adheres to the old AC aesthetic, but even that backing sounds a lot more user-friendly and organic.  “My Girls” works on similarly traditional pop grounds, but in unexpected ways.  There’s a discernible verse and chorus, repeated just as you’d expect, but they’re subtly changed in each iteration – sped up, made dense with loops, etc.  And these aren’t even the only songs that could pass for pop on here – there are actually quite a few.

While, as in the past with this band, I can’t go quite as far as some of the critics in recommending Merriweather Post Pavilion (there are still a few too many grating moments like the recurring organ runs on “Daily Routine”), its high points are simply too good to pass up.  And I can’t help being impressed that a band I previously associated with unlistenability could make something so thoroughly listenable.

Antony & the Johnsons – The Crying Light
Perhaps even more than Animal Collective (particularly on their most recent pop-friendlier outing), Antony Hegarty is an acquired taste.  Equipped with a Tiny Tim falsetto, an impossible-to-miss lisp, and a lyrical preoccupation not with the kind of dramatic morbidity favored by the Nick Caves and Ian Curtises, but with the mundane, slow, quiet fade-to-black kind, he’s the dictionary definition of “hard sell” to most rock fans.  But wait – it gets better.  He’s also a rather big guy, has a very interesting relationship with gender, and his backup band would probably more appropriately be called a mini-pit orchestra.

So what to make of a problem like Antony in this post-Hold Steady world?  Well, you can’t accuse him of not being ballsy, that’s for sure – he goes right for our insecurities and not just the ones you’d expect.  For someone as… confusing… as he is, gender-wise, there’s probably not a line on The Crying Light that relies on it to make an easy, uncomfortable point.  Instead, it’s frailty – frailty of our planet (the album’s fraught with nature references), of our loved ones (opening track “Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground” seems to be about his mother), and of ourselves (“Epilepsy is Dancing,” “Another World,” the list goes on here).

As with his other releases, The Crying Light isn’t for all occasions (don’t throw it on at a party or when you’re trying to set a romantic mood – y’know, maybe you shouldn’t play this at all when other people are around…).  But, like them, it’s uniquely touching, and, perhaps a little unlike them, it’s a strikingly coherent album, more thematically unified than the others, specifically because Antony is increasingly fearless in plumbing the depths of his preoccupations for our entertainment.

Atlas Sound – Logos
After thoroughly dismissing Deerhunter’s Cryptograms a couple of years ago, I came around on them in a big way with 2008’s Microcastle, a tighter, focused rock album that worked singer/songwriter Bradford Cox’s love of gauzy distortion into actual songs.  I’d always heard that Cox’s ongoing solo project, Atlas Sound, was on the less structured, ambient side than Deerhunter, so I’d been reluctant to dive in.  In my post-Microcastle change of heart on the guy’s work, though, I tried Cryptograms again, and quite liked it, so I figured I’d give Logos a shot (okay, I was partially going on Aziz Ansari’s recommendation – who doesn’t like Aziz?  Terrorists and America-haters, that’s who).

As it turns out, Logos sounds like a side project.  It’s unfocused and skitters back and forth from barely-there mood pieces to pretty terrific songs.  The standout, as Aziz says, is “Walkabout,” which, yes, features the aforementioned Panda Bear of Animal Collective notoriety and, yes, sounds a bit like the newer, poppier version of that band (although perhaps even more accessible).  But “Shelia” is another highlight, as it takes the Microcastle sound into sunnier territory and “Quick Canal,” which features another notable guest appearance in the form of Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab and rides a Neu-ish groove.  Not an entirely satisfying album, but worth a listen, especially for these songs.

(By the way, in the interest of expediency, I may be eschewing album artwork on marathon posts this year.  Any thoughts?  Are the posts too text-dense?)

Edit:  I’ve decided to go with youtube links instead of album art.  More informative if less stable.


Written by Dave

December 11, 2009 at 7:04 pm

5 Responses

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  1. A photo now and again might be nice, but don’t feel compelled. I know how you feel about Photobucket. I think we need an intern to do layout.

    I don’t think “Summertime Clothes” sounds like The Shins because I actively, willfully hate Animal Collective. As such, they can have no relationship whatsoever to a band I love. I have similar, irrationally visceral reactions to The Fiery Furnaces and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (except “Maps.” Always except “Maps.”) What I’m trying to say here in my own little nearly-the-end-of-the-semester breakdowny way is that you’re probably right. “Summertime Clothes” sounds like The Shins, The Electronic, Aggressively Weird Shins. But you’ll never hear me admit it.

    Also, this is not a pipe.


    December 11, 2009 at 7:53 pm

  2. My favorite time of the year when Dave goes music crazy and gives the most spot-on reviews around. Here’s my 2009 music list of albums I acquired that came out: Mastodon’s crack the Sky is pretty good. The Hazards of Love is OK, has it’s strong points. Jeremy Enigk’s OK Bear isn’t his best work. Out of the 4 2009 releases I actually came across, the best one is “The Seldom Seem Kid – Live at Abbey Road” by Elbow, which, sadly is a live version of the album that came out in 2008. Bought a lot of older records, however. Wake me when something new and exciting comes out.


    December 12, 2009 at 7:17 pm

  3. Keep reading and I’ll try to make the “wake Tony up” moments as clear as possible. Caveats notwithstanding, Merriweather Post Pavilion might work for you.

    I think I listened to the Enigk album on Lala, but never bought a copy. If I recall, it sounded more SDRE than the last few things he worked on (Fire Theft included), but I just forgot about it.

    And despite the fact that you’ve been recommending Elbow for years, I haven’t gotten to them. Maybe in 2010?


    December 13, 2009 at 10:03 am

  4. I hope this hasn’t puttered out already. 2009 has to be the weakest year for music that I can remember, but I think that’s due in part to a waning in my interest. My hope is that the marathon can ignite the spark. No pressure or anything, though.


    December 16, 2009 at 12:10 pm

  5. More coming. It’s probably going to be in fits and starts.


    December 16, 2009 at 12:36 pm

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