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January 28, 2009 |

By TK Burton | Music | January 28, 2009 |

Never let it be said that we don’t listen to your cries. Of course, seeing as we are who we are, sometimes what you want and what you get are two different things. We’ve got some great reviews today, for some not-so-great albums. So by all means, read on. Thanks.

merriweather.jpgAnimal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
[Domino Records]

At the suggestion of some readers, we decided to review Animal Collective’s recently released Merriweather Post Pavillion. I volunteered for this because I really want to expand my knowledge of new music, and I was surprised to learn that this is Animal Collective’s ninth “album” (they have also released several E.P.s, although I wonder how useful that term is anymore, unless you’re a vinyl collector). I had never heard of Animal Collective before this, so I thought this might be a second or third release from an independent band.

I think it’s a good thing that rock music (for lack of a better term) is always evolving. The most important thing to me is that the music stays true to the original ideas, mainly acting up by creating a jangle of noise, the idea of being able to thrust your hips to a song (whether that be dancing or screwing), and having a good time. You can throw any message in there, be it political, being free, good love, bad love, what have you, just make sure you have a good foundation and the subject matter is pure bonus. In my opinion, good lyrics make a good melody even better.

The album starts out with “In the Flowers” which reminds me in some ways of early-to-mid period Pink Floyd with its weird sound effects in the beginning. When the song finally kicks in, the computer/synth blasts the highs out of my speakers while a pleasant melody is sung over the noise. Instead of working together, the percussion, computer and vocals seem to be fighting for dominance.

Flat intertwined vocals layer the entire album. The vocals themselves are somewhat hypnotic in the same way as those Benedictine Monk chants I heard everywhere in the 90s. This is like 80s synth-pop without the fun. Kind of like if Baltimora, who gave us “Tarzan Boy”, decided to write serious music.

“My Girls” comes close to being a good song. The vocal exchanges are compelling, reminding me of the Beach Boys or Brian Wilson’s vocal stylings, although this is a far cry from the five-part harmonies you hear on Shine. That synthesizer loop is shrieking. I’m not at all in love with the drum machine, either.

“My Girls”

Each song seems to begin with some kind of atmospheric swirl. What the fuck is the time signature in “Also Frightened”? It’s perfect music for rolling down a stone-filled hill inside a large tractor tire. Random synthesized sound-effects and vocal “la-las” pepper this tune.

“Summertime Clothes” comes close to being The Feelgood Hit of the Summer. This is probably the bright spot of the album for me. It’s a bit too noisy for my tastes, but it sure is bouncy.

The sampling and rhythm of most songs is almost industrial sounding. The repetition in “Brothersport” is rave-like. I felt like I was in downtown Pensacola, circa 1997, at Bedlam, hanging out with a bunch of other people with no place to go at 3:15 a.m., watching the empty, lit dance floor.

“Bluish” starts with some promise. I start to believe that I’m going to get an atmospheric, mellow tune, a style I think would work well with the singer’s voice, only the heavy, warbling sound effects start about 30 seconds in, and I’m annoyed. I like atmospherics in music. Wilco is a good example of atmospheric rock. It’s true they can have some jarring instrumentation and effects as well, but I think those are more controlled than what exists here.

The thing I hear most in this music is that it can’t figure out what it wants to be. In a way, it is uncontrolled and seems to be allowed to wander. Maybe that’s what Animal Collective was going for. But I can’t get into it because I’m constantly distracted. I save music with these features for tasks such as long drives to keep me awake or painting a room to counter the mundane task.

Acting up by creating a jangle of noise - check; Hip thrusting and having a good time? Not so much on this release from the boys in Animal Collective.

cryinglight.jpgAntony and the Johnsons: The Crying Light
[Secretly Canadian Records]

This is so painful. I don’t mean The Crying Light — although that is also painful in its own pompous, plodding, boring way. No, what really hurts is having to put the smackdown on one of my favourite artists. This feels like kicking a really good friend in the teeth, just after they’ve come seventh out of nine in the three-legged race at school. Me and Antony, we go way back - all the way back to, ahem, 2005 - when everyone else found out about him with the release of second album I Am A Bird Now, and pretended to each other that they owned and enjoyed his first. That’s how close we are, Ant and I. So believe me when I say that I derive no enjoyment from the dissection that is about to follow.

The Crying Light is devastatingly dull. Consider the really, really boring lead single, “Another World”: the simple piano chords that make up its backbone sound like a standard retread of “For Today I Am A Boy”, and then there is a sort of howling kind of sound blowing through the song as Antony wails the most wretched lyrics, masquerading as elemental poetry or a lament for a world due for extinction: “I’m gonna miss the sea/ I’m gonna miss the snow/ I’m gonna miss the bees/ I’ll miss the things that grow.” Jesus. When I heard the song, I purposefully threw away some glass bottles with my plastics. Screw the icebergs.

Things don’t get much better, lyrically, elsewhere: “Daylight and the Sun” finds him moaning, “Now I cry for daylight/ Daylight and the sun/ Now I cry for daylight/ Daylight everyone”. I’m sorry, did you just say daylight everyone? It’s so gnomic, it makes Rhea Perlman look like Magic Johnson. Otherwise, the song title “Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground” is bleakly evocative, I suppose. But the song itself I found to be limp and uninvolving, right up until the sombre, flinty cello which closes it off, courtesy of Nico Muhly: at last, a moment to break up the monotony.

Speaking of which, Muhly’s arrangements do bring some much-needed levity to proceedings: on closer “Everglade” (the unquestionable highlight of the set), a swell of strings and a sad oboe are the perfect foil for Hegarty’s still-astonishing voice. What is wonderful about it the song is that it is so grandiose, so ambitious, so full of itself: bulging fatly with this overblown arrangement, it is everything that the other, little, beige songs are not.

What is really sad is that Antony’s voice, which is still the glorious tool it always was, has a hard time imparting profundity to these moribund, stodgy numbers. His beautiful, soaring tremolo still holds so much clipped, contained sorrow; his precise enunciation makes him sound other-worldly; his phrasing likewise. But there is nothing thrilling here - no shiver-inducing moments such as there were in “Hope There’s Someone”, for instance, and no real moments of transgression to rival the deluded, paean to domestic violence of “Fistful of Love”. And so many songs are plain embarrassing: “Dust and Water” and “Kiss My Name” are just incomprehensible.

I understand the project, and it’s a noble and original one: to map our departing world; to find some balm in our disappearing resources of water and air; to sing our world. Well done! Cute idea. But the trouble is that Antony’s music has previously benefited from sounding very personal. The spectral hush of I Am A Girl Now suited these confessional stories, as did first person narration: think of the emotion he dredged from “Bird Gerhl”, with its Garland-like yearning to fly away and escape the prison of gender. Here, he can’t come to grips with his subject in the same way, and the result is a curiously listless, disappointing collection of songs.

Sorry, Tony. You made me do it.
—Caspar Salmon

oldmoney.jpgOmar Rodriguez-Lopez: Old Money
[Stones Throw Records]

In response to just about every review I’ve ever posted on this site, I’ve always gotten a flood of comments from people (who I automatically imagine are bald men, for whatever reason) who decry my musical tastes and bemoan the lack of “ROCK” music on the site. I can only presume that these people want me to write about something heavy. Something loud, something fast, something in-your-face. Something that sounds HARD. Well, whenever someone tries to tell me that all I listen to is “pussy rock”, or if anyone says that hard rock music hasn’t been good in the last decade, I first show them The Mars Volta. And for those who can stick through more than one full song, it’s usually a revelation.

The Mars Volta are one of the craziest, ballsiest, most creative bands you will ever listen to. And since their sophomore release, Frances The Mute, they’re one of the heaviest and fastest “hip” bands in the scene today. The band is known for its outrageous tempo changes, screaming horns, and uniquely incomprehensible guitar solos. The man who composes all of their songs is their guitarist, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. So, it should come as no shock to anyone who’s listened to The Mars Volta that every other track of this solo effort is no less complex, unusual, or rocking. In those songs, there is a distinct feeling of déjà vu, with musical ideas and arrangements that sound like rehashed riffs from TMV’s The Bedlam in Goliath. It’s strange to be almost jaded with such a fantastic musical mind, but it’s true. Just about every other track on Old Money is same old, same old.

But that’s just half of the genius at work here, and thankfully, refreshingly, Rodriguez-Lopez has learned how to capture his musical virtuosity in a record that isn’t just impressive but, in contrast with his previous solo efforts, is also fun to listen to. Take the fifth track, the nonsensically titled “Trilateral Commission As Dinner Guests” (I’m sure it means something to him). The song begins simply, a fairly strong beat backing a repetitious and slightly unusual lead guitar riff, when all of a sudden, in come the horns. And from there, the song is jazz/rock magic, Miles Davis-level creativity that perfectly blends the flavors of music that Rodriguez-Lopez has become famous for with his technical influences.

The rest of the album is Rodriguez Lopez at his finest, yet for all his spontaneity, it’s somehow predictable, almost rote for someone who’s crafted a career out of challenging listeners more than any other rock guitarist today. Still, it’s a more than worthy purchase for the self-respecting hard rock fan of today; experimental, dissonant, but absolutely brilliant. I won’t be showing this album off to every person I meet who complains about a lack of hard rock in my collection. But I have a feeling I’ll be able to lead those people to it. Eventually.
Christian H.

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Wednesday Music Reviews / Pajiba Music Writers

Music | January 28, 2009 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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