Thursday, October 10, 2019

Animal magic?

As much as I enjoyed this Pitchfork piece marking the tenth anniversary of the release of Merriweather Post Pavilion - and I honestly did - I can't help thinking that its author Larry Fitzmaurice rather overstates the case.

The album is indeed "inarguably Animal Collective's most purely listenable release, as lovely as a babbling brook with trippy textures befitting the album's organically psychedelic, Magic Eye-style cover art", a definite career high beloved by the critics. But did it really mark a breakthrough "to a level of collective pop consciousness"? In my recollection, it didn't register much beyond the internet and a few excitable music publications, certainly in the UK at least.

This is what makes Fitzmaurice's surprise at "Merriweather's own lack of projected influence on indie at large" rather odd. I, for one, was never under any illusions that it was anything other than an experimental LP by mainstream standards (even if not by their own). It didn't bring about the sort of significant seachange that Fitzmaurice claims it could (and maybe should have) simply because it wasn't visible, accessible or commercially successful enough.

There's also that troubling use of the label "indie". To my mind, Animal Collective could never be classified as such. Sure, Merriweather made concessions to listenability and threw pop into the blender, but they've always had far more in common with out-there noise acts like Black Dice and Wolf Eyes. Bracketing them in with Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors feels forced - they just happened to be three bands making fascinating, critically acclaimed music in the same place (Brooklyn) at the same time (the late noughties).

Finally, I'd take issue with Fitzmaurice's view that "Animal Collective's insistence on sticking to their oddness [in the wake of Merriweather] instead of seeking greater commercial glories remains quixotically impressive". He's right about their chosen course of action - but it would only be impressive (rather than stubborn and self-sabotaging) if the results were as good or better than Merriweather. Which, thus far, they haven't been.

The observation that "everything about Merriweather practically screams 'live'" amused me, given that it was witnessing them performing the album at Glastonbury 2009 that soured the whole thing for me. It remains one of my biggest musical regrets that I didn't stay to watch Neil Young's entire set and now have a jaundiced view of an album I loved.

Still, that's where Panda Bear's wonderful Person Pitch comes in. Fitzmaurice is spot on in identifying it as being in many ways the blueprint for Merriweather, "a collagist classic of sidelong Beach Boys-isms and kitchen-sink sonics". Discovering it came as something of a relief, given that Merriweather remains off-limits a decade on from that traumatic experience at Worthy Farm.

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