Recollective

I’ve been sitting on Merriweather Post Pavilion for two weeks now, trying to separate my experience from those of the thousands of others who have chimed in. Yet I cannot, and I will recount two recent conversations I overheard and/or took part in during that same amount of time:

1.) In Connecticut, at a friend’s house, as we were sitting around listening to MPP, one of the people in the room: “I’m really glad our generation has this band.”

2.) On a public bus in Brooklyn: A minor debate, between myself and my roommate, as to whether 50% of American college students have heard of Animal Collective.

Now, let me make it clear that the friend quoted is one who does not generally subscribe to cliches; she was expressing a very honest belief that, in witnessing this band move from album to album, we of a certain age are in on some kind of shared experiential growth process. Namely, that we are witnessing an artistic career worth remembering.

Yet this shared experience she hinted at seems to take root in a countless number of very personal emotions and reactions that, while potentially easy to relate to, make it very hard to come to any definitive conclusions about the impact of the band. While this can be said for a good deal of art, for those who have a particularly vested interest in Animal Collective, objective separation exists at a distinct level of impossibility, at a point where the sonic aesthetics of the music come to take a backseat to the very unique set of associations.

In the above video, we can see hints as to why this sort of possessive engagement occurs. Quite simply, this band is not comprised of distant idols whose existences lie solely in a realm to which the listener dares not imagine visiting. Especially at a young age, such as they were in 2003, these appear to be people who, through their art, are reaching up toward something beyond their own lives, which if the conversation gives any clues, have their fair share of mundaneness. The language used is plain and earthly, with attention paid to extremely tangible things like rent and geography. And these earthly notions, when one listens to the music, are being left in the dust as these four men try to escape toward something difficult to place yet obviously beyond terrestrial demands.

This sense of escape from the mundane is, I think, what lies at the center of the band’s appeal. Even as the listener enters into a world made deep by the layers of sound, there is, after enough time spent with the material, a very great sense of safety. And while I hesitate to make musical comparisons to The Grateful Dead, there is certainly something to be said for the level of possibility inherent in the words and the music. While Garcia and Co. played the role of the elder guides who were always careful not to harshen things up by providing definitives–a point brought to my attention by an interview with Devendra Banhart in which he notes the importance of American Beauty opening with the word “Maybe”–AC seem to be more like the spiritual brethren whose occasional explorations of the darker aspects of life are reined in by a gentleness that comes as much from their pop tendencies as from the overarching themes of morality that have littered their recent work, Person Pitch included. This morality, combined with the demographic similarities between band and fans, has always made it incredibly easy for listeners to move beyond any challenging aspects of the music and imagine themselves as being in on the escape.

And now comes Merriweather Post Pavilion, what seems to be the band’s ultimate push for an escape, an album with themes–family life (“My Girls,” “Also Frightened”), the desire for youthful spontaneity (“Summertime Clothes”) and the costs of constant movement (“No More Runnin'”)–that are both comforting because of their domesticity and terrifying because they are a straightfaced acknowledgment of the pains of growing up. For every sweet sentiment there is a moment of nearly unbearable tension, and the accumulated emotional taxation caused by this doesn’t see any real release until the buoyant chants of closer “Brothersport” remind the listener to “Open up your throat”, as if to serve as a reminder that yes, while we are all horrified by the passing of time, we are all in on that journey together, and we must all do everything we can to not let the process strike us silent as we plot a way out of it.

Sonically, Merriweather Post Pavilion is an album that sounds equally deconstructed and harmonious, intriguingly identifiable yet layered to the point of mystery. Emotionally, it is an album that represents the plight of all those wishing to break from the claustrophobia induced by the body’s natural progression and the demands of a world that frowns upon a life simultaneously simple and full of exuberance. And because the men in that video seem so familiar to us, we listen with the hope that, together, they and we can get to that sunny place where escape is no longer necessary.

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One Response to “Recollective”

  1. adam it is here my figurative tail curves low between my legs and i admit that i love this album and that animal collective may not be sundering good music after all. let’s not scoff at the fact that you started a blog at the same time that i started liking animal collective. this is crucial. admittedly i still see the “era” ushered in by this group — check out Todd P’s show list lately and you see its prevalence — as a confusing stalemate for music.

    i recall experiencing anxiety over the following conclusions about the basic chronology that animal collective completes:

    80s = great pop, bad rock
    90s = great rock, bad pop
    00s = animal collective…?

    is anything else so emblematic of “the 2000s?” I wonder which direction will music as a collective/creative pool will travel in the future (read: is rock finally, FINALLY dead..?).

    This thought alarms me. But MPP still kills. Holla

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