Mike Hiltz at Central Target and I had the bright idea to do a marathon listen/chat through Animal Collective's Merriwheather Post Pavilion, Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest, Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca. These records have each been named the "best record of 2009" by various outlets as early as December of 2008, and we thought it was our duty to see if any of them actually deserved the extravagant hype. My comments appear in italics below. I'm breaking the chat up by albums, so for today's post we have Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion. After all of the chats are up, I'll be back with a proper post to sum up my thoughts.
Before we start listening, maybe we should predict how much we'll like each of them.
Mike: sounds good... I'm gonna say "pretty good, B" to Grizzly Bear, C+ to animal collective, and a D to Dirty Projectors. I should say though, I've only heard bits and pieces of any of the bands' other work. Those grades are really basically random
I've heard the last album by Animal Collective, "Strawberry Jam", and the lead singer's last solo album, "Person Pitch". I heard Grizzly Bear play at the Pitchfork Festival, and was very unimpressed. Dirty Projectors, all I've heard is their song with David Byrne on the "Dark Was the Night" charity record and a few stray tracks. Oh, and I know they covered Black Flag's "Damaged" in its entirety.
Mike: I love David Byrne. I've only heard Projectors material from that Damaged cover album. As a Black Flag fan, I had to hear it. Oh, and my typing is terrible, as our readers will find out.
How were the covers? I know of it, never heard anything
Mike (1:13:23 PM): Written from memory, allegedly, not actual re-listening. It was like if you and I tried to cover Cracked Rear View from remembering what it sounded like. Allegedly. I don't buy any of that crap, but whatever. By being so contrived and theoretical, it made it pretentious
Now I'm trying to imagine how I would actually want to cover Cracked Rear View.
Mike HA! We have more important things at hand though
A Place to Bury Hootie
Mike: *ugh*... so where do we start? who's up?
Let's do this chronologically and start with Animal Collective.
Mike: oh, wait... I'm an ass. So real quick: what's your grade for this one?
I'm guessing a C or C- for this one.
Mike: Oooh! Let's rock it...ready?
Mike: alright.... GO!
Ah yes... "Maggot Brain" I love this album
I can't fault an album for starting with what sounds like a toilet flushing
Mike: (By the way, Dogdoguwar readers... I'm the snide one in the group. Nice to meet ya!)
Yeah I was thinking more "bong-y".
oh. psychedelic handclaps. Oh boy.
I think i can hear that they have beards.
I don't know how I can tell.
Because only bearded hippies play drums like this
Mike: Yeah, true
I long for the golden days when it was just an ambient thing. Pre-drums.
When the song started, I thought "I hope this picks up!", and now I wish I hadn't said that.
My sociology-sense just goes nuts when they start trying to do the "tribal drumming" thing
I'm trying hard not to judge this on people I knew in college's taste, to take it for itself, but big 'drum circle' drums and underwater ambient bits worry me
The outro wasn't bad
OK, this one sounds like Tangerine Dream.
In a good way?
Mike: Sorta. Not in a BAD way. But that synth riff that faded in was very TD. The vocals are throwing it off a bit. Actually, I'm sort of enjoying this vocal arrangement. But I'm on decent headphones.
WHOA! what the hell is that?
This is better than the first track. What surprised you?
Mike: The thudding percussion coming in, breaking up the space rock ambience. All low and squelchy.
See, I like this one a bit less than the first one, because this sounds like a lousy Beach Boys song from the "Still Cruisin'" era.
I thought it kind of worked well
Mike: it does. unexpected, I guess
Yeah, it is a bad Beach Boys song, but that's better than a bad song one would hear at People's Park
Very fair. And I think the Beach Boys thing comes from the singer sounding like a cross between Mike Love and the guy from They Might Be Giants.
This song does go one about 2 years too long
Mike : Much like Mike Love's ego.
I'm finding the sudden urge to wander into the next room and grab a snack.
Ok, this song can just shut the hell up now.
Mike: Not because this is awful, but because it's just like nothing.
None of it seems to belong in the same song
Mike: Immaculately recorded, so I guess it's does SOUND really neat in the stereo field and all the reverb and whatnot.
You know when you're listening to something on your computer and then open a YouTube window, crushing the two audio sources together?
Mike: It's like Squarepusher, Bright Eyes, and an oompah band. I'd like to see that browser history.
You know what I do when that happens? I try to find one of the sources to turn it off. Animal Collective lets it run for 5:16.
Mike: We still have a minute and a half.
I think your time is better served by getting a snack
Mike: wait, it's getting nice... like shoegazer looping
Well, for a few seconds. Neat stereo panning...
You think "Summertime Clothes" is going to be the "big rock song"
It's going to be the big "rock" song
Mike: If I ever write a proper review of this album, I'm going to call this "Animal Collective's 'Takin' Care Of Business'".
It is the best thing so far on the album
Mike: I'm going to disagree. I feel that ambient MOMENTS in the first few songs were actually really great, in an Orb-like way, but this, so far, is the best SONG.
I'll agree with that
Mike: That uber-chipper double-timey rhythm kinda thing rubs me the wrong way though. Overdone since '05... like when they put that Sufjan Stevens song into 'Little Miss Sunshine'
It's got a real Yes or ELP vibe to me.
Mike: This vocalist is driving me crazy, but that's because I think he sounds like Conor Oberst, and I have a bias against Bright Eyes.
I say bring back Mike Love
I already regret saying that.
Yeah, it's a no-win scenerio
Mike: So does Mike Love get all the techno songs, and Conor Oberst gets the drum-circle ones?
A touch of Rivers Cuomo in Mike's voice, too.
That little repeating riff is pissing me off
Yeah, I hear the Cuomo comparison.
Ok, when I said I hated that riff, that didn't mean I wanted to hear more of it.
Mike: Oh, everything else is fading, but it's staying.
I can't really win.... they're good at the ambient intros and outros, but no good at spacing out parts of the song. When they go spacey, I want them to rock and move a little more, and then they do, and I don't want that once I hear it.
it's weird though. I'm getting, so far, a "more than the sum of it's parts" vibe from this one
I'm liking it objectively a little more than I expected. But I bet fake Conor Oberst is going to drop by and make me a liar.
It's not bad, to be sure, but I can't fathom getting very excited about it.
Mike: Nowhere near that pre-emptive "best of the year" hype, so far. But to assume that it won't end up on the list would be doing the same thing I've damned the press for doing previously.
It will end up on all the lists, but I have yet to hear anything that makes me feel like it deserves to be there.
Mike: I could, however, see this in my largest group of contenders for "Top Ten". Based on what I've heard so far, it would probably lose out in the first round of whittling. It's not great, but if I can put that Meat Puppets on my list, I could see it in the candidates
But I've already heard 10 albums this year that I like more than what I've heard on this.
I was, however expecting more "organic stringed instruments" on this. Like recognizable acoutstic guitars that sounded rusty or something.
It's more electronic-psych than I expected.
It sounds about like their last record, which, as I said, I liked well enough.
Mike: Makes sense. The pseudo-samba thing I'm hearing now is pissing me off
because it feels like they're using that whole style of music with all it's history at the most surface level, almost like HYPERirony. So ironic they're not sure if they get it and genuinely think it's awesome, like hipsters and yacht rock.
When they do come across an enjoyable sound, they don't hold it long enough. They play the hell out of the annoying parts, though.
Again, I can't state enough how nicely recorded the space parts are. the intro to this song sounded WONDERFUL on my headphones.
Then Mike Love comes back with a Modest Mouse song and ruins the mood.
This one is alright, well until I started typing.
Now that you mention that, I want to hear 60's Mike Love sing "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes"
Mike: you're right about them repeating things. "Guys Eyes", which just started to do that thing the Beach Boys did, but without any of the payoff of a good countermelody vocal coming in.
Yeah, a good lead vocal coming in across that vocal bed would have been excellent. Without that, it's just kind of nothing.
Mike: i don't need my psych-rock to sound like music that came before it, but if it DOES recall obvious touchstones, try to meet the standard. Like, I'm not going to try to make a record that sounds like the Zombies, but if I clearly wrote a record just like the zombies, I'd try to make one that was good in that sense of "good"
You know, the Beach Boys never went full prog-hippie, which one might of expected, given Mike Love's Maharishi leanings. This is kind of what that might have sounded like. I'm very glad they didn't
Mike: yuck. agreed.
"Repetition in the music, and we're really gonna use it. Repetition in the music, and we're really gonna use it. Repetition in the music, and we're really gonna use it."
-Mark E. Smith, The Fall
On paper, just putting together the touchstones of this, I should like it. Beach Boys, shoegazer, psychedelia, etc.
Mike: They started a song called "Lion In A Coma" with a digeridoo? And it's CONOR singing? Screw this band.
Agreed on the touchstones
There's always an appropriate Mark E. Smith quote for an occasion.
Mike: i think that's the reason i'm not being harder on it. I think, "Well, it's sorta like X, and you LIKE X, so this must be alright."
Ok, I actively hate this song
Mike: The weird time signature in this one is irritating the hell out of me. I like weirdly-timed music, but this one feels like, "Look how good we are at musician-ing!"
"Hey, we listened to Captain Beefheart that one time!"
Mike: "Remember that?!? Let's DO that!"
Alright, I'm liking the start of this song. Now, let's see how long it takes to switch to something more irritating.
Mike: Let's mark once it gets screwed up.
There's a thin line between being atmospheric and being boring.
Mike: This is like if "Summertime Rolls" by Jane's Addiction didn't have any foreward momentum, and that was written and recorded by a bunch of heroin addicts.
I'm gonna hate this song.
Mike: and it's SIX MINUTES LONG!
Mike: The Lion Sleeps Tonight with a Casio samba?!?
We're gonna do this
are they yelling "sports bra" in the background?
oh, "Support Your Brother", I think.
It's sports bra
Mike: I wrote this song when I was six and just started mashing my fists on my friend's Bert and Ernie keyboard.
If you want to get angrier, just imagine the day-glo colored scenester kids just going nuts doing the hippie dance with their hands to this song.
Mike: ah crap... thanks for that
Probably wearing a Ninja Turtles t-shirt and Kanye glasses. Are ironic mullets still a thing?
Mike: When did this go to a house song? With calypso vocals?
I think I get why hipsters and indie kids like this. I'm having a moment.
Mike: There are SO MANY STYLES on this record, often all at once, something in the brain registers that it must be good if it's that layered and wide-ranging. It's a mash of everything you commented on above, combined with heavy psych and prog, electronic dance music, hippe jam bands, the earthy side of Krautrock, a la Amon Duul II, soul, pop... on and on. It's without a doubt EPIC and swooping, but for me, those elements aren't glued together right
Thank god that ended
Mike: having that epiphany during that joyful energy burst at the end of the track was sorta nice though.
Come back tomorrow as our tour takes us to Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest