Today we have unveiled our review of the highly anticipated, much internet-sheriffed about new Animal Collective album Merriweather Post Pavilion. And like many of our contemporaries, we find it to be quite an enjoyable listen. But exactly one week into 2009 and it’s already being proclaimed the best record of the year, with some giving it higher praise than any release in all of 2008. And so I am left to wonder; am I the only one who isn’t even sure it’s the best record I’ve gotten in the last week, let alone all of this year and last?
To be certain, it is a beautiful record; one that I assigned to one of our more critical writers in the hopes that he would find something that didn’t sit well with him, only to be greeted with his overstated joy. And upon reading Flavorwire’s interview with Pitchfork editor Mark Richardson, I have a better understanding of why they chose to rate it so high. Yet earlier this week, when we simply stated that all the publications are elbowing their way to be the first to bow down to it, it elicited a comment of “don’t pretend like you’re not ready to bow down to this record as well. It’s fucking incredible and you know it.” Fair enough, but in an odd twist of irony, the commenter went on to add, “and please don’t turn into the next holier than thou Pitchfork snob website.”
That added jab became the incentive for this editorial, because it led me to hypothetically ask Chris (the name under which the comment was left), “if we — as music ‘journalists’ — are not to be critical of the music laid out before us, then who is?” I know the reason I started reading Pitchfork was not because they were critical and at times, demeaning, but because they had a definitive voice. One that you trusted, and would hope to give you insight that other, less confrontational sources like The Chicago Tribune, Paste Magazine, Spin were afraid to bring up. So does this speak more to Pitchfork watering down their content to fill a wider audience range, or — and the stance I take — that we as listeners and the music industry as a whole are looking so desperately for some reason, any reason, to believe that this year can be filled with a summery disposition like the one displayed on Merriweather Post Pavailion. That no matter what is to come in ’09, it has to be better than last year?
It’s as though Animal Collective is the musical equivalent of Barack Obama. They don’t have to do anything extraordinary in order to save us from our daily doldrums. They just need to be. Sure, in the end Merriweather meets — or excedes — our expectations, but it doesn’t matter what it sounds like. It didn’t matter for the past three months when everyone was trying to get their hands on it, and the band and their label were successful (for the most part) at keeping it away from the masses, building the expectations even more. Maybe that’s what the anticipation was built upon. Maybe it’s not the band that we cared about or that we all were interested to hear what the album sounded like, but we wanted to be the first to say we’ve heard the record. To exclaim its amazingness before anyone else. I mean, The Tripwire is already really late in posting our review a mere three days after it’s vinyl release (note: not CD or digital yet).
Like Richardson explained in the Flavorwire interview, much of the excitement and anticipation comes from not knowing what Animal Collective will do next. The fact you cannot predict what sound they will embody from record to record is one of their biggest assets. As he goes on to say that while a lot of people will want to compare them to Radiohead because of the experimentation and departure from “conventional” pop-music, that “one thing with Radiohead, is that every album had at least a few tunes that could fairly be described as ‘rock songs.’ You could tell what all the instruments were, there are guitars, etc., but that’s not really true with [Merriweather Post Pavilion].”
The Radiohead comparisons are both justified and lofty praise for a band that used to wear masks. But in the end it doesn’t matter what Pitchfork, myself, yourself, or anyone thinks, because music is only as deep as the moment we are listening to it. Once it’s off and the criticism begins, it loses any value. So to answer Chris, I can only say that I will continue be that “holier than thou” opinionated asshole, because someone has to try and weed through the herd mentality. Even if the herd is right.
And in case Chris or anyone else is wondering, I think that Merriweather Post Pavilion is a wonderfully produced record. Possibly one of the best produced records of the last decade. And it’s the lush and sonic beauty of the production which makes it a better-than-good record. Still, the songwriting — in my humble opinion — is only average, with many of the songs sounding very similar, even repetitive and blending into one another at times. Maybe this is intentional, maybe it’s not, but as a whole it is not nearly as poppy as Strawberry Jam or innovative as Sung Tongs (still my favorite Animal Collective album to date). I will listen to it often and thoroughly many more times, but if I were to make any comparisons, it would be to another band’s monumental opus.
Merriweather Post Pavilion will inevitably be Animal Collective’s Pet Sounds. You will either think it’s the best thing they’ve ever done, or a record that will remain critically acclaimed and on your shelf while you reach for Strawberry Jam. Either way, it will forever be remembered. As for a number? I’ll give it a 7.5.