MONDAY, FEBRUARY 01, 2016 |
Posted by: Don Saas
Alright. Let's have a real chat here. Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion is as seminal an album as exists for me. It was one of the records that was relatively recent when I was first starting to really dive deep into contemporary independent music. And it challenged the musical/genre vocabulary that I had built up over the years (even though, years later, I'd realize how dependent AnCo are on the vocabulary of pop that artists like Brian Wilson built in the 60s). I hated it the first time I heard it, but like most challenging pieces of art, it grew on me. But Merriweather came out six years ago, and 2012's Centipede Hz never reached that "grower" status. We're getting the band's latest LP, Painting With, in the middle of this month and have Animal Collective become a parody of themselves?
I should lead with the fact that I thought "FloriDada" was a fun track (with an incomprehensibly bizarre music video). But it's fun in the way that any of AnCo's nonsense, upbeat songs often are. It's a track built to appeal to folks who both like the building blocks of pop music but are also big fans of infusing that sound with enough psychedelia to fuel a bus of hippies. And the band's latest track, "Lying in the Grass," is more of the same although it leans heavier into the band's avant-garde side ala Centipede Hz. And that's fine to an extent. There are plenty of folks who prefer the band's earliest albums who have tracks that I'm mildly uncomfortable categorizing as music (looking at you, "I See You Pan"). But if you're a band that's proven you're capable of writing songs as genuinely great as "My Girls" and "Brother Sport," why would you ever devolve back to being weird for weird's sake? Can't you do better than this now?
Nobody is saying that Animal Collective can't be weird anymore. Merriweather is still an exceptionally weird album, but it all felt like it was in service of something. And that proclivity for the bizarre translated to the band's best music video work ("Summertime Clothes" and "Brother Sport" are music video masterpieces). An argument could be made that "FloriDada" works cause the band is turning their eye for the avant onto fatherhood, and that you can be a dad but still be into acid pop. But that also might be projecting like crazy and I still haven't cracked a possible code for "Lying in the Grass" yet.
And this is an important question because it seemed like circa Merriweather that Animal Collective could have changed the entire pop game. "My Girls" is as psychedelic as anything released in the aughts, but you could play that song for just about anybody and they'd get what makes that song special. It was weird but simple. It found elegance in eccentricity. "Lying in the Grass" (and the band's video approach for "FloriDada") don't have me convinced that Painting With won't be anything more than weirdness for weirdness's sake, and I'm hoping AnCo prove me wrong.