Calxie #2: Axe murderers: albums that could have killed the guitar. Nominee 4 of 4
Some people are just born before their time, and some of them drag the present into the future, like a terrified child to a dentist’s chair – because it’s for their own damn good. Even people as undeniably significant as Charles Darwin, Emmeline Pankhurst and Harvey Milk had to start small. They were unpopular to begin with because what they were thinking just wasn’t normal. By this logic, how can a record like ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ be so readily accepted with open arms by critics and public alike? It’s hardly an instant hit; it over-saturates the senses on the first play so much that I couldn’t make out what its point was, but, like so many records I have grown to love, this one needs your time and just bit of effort on your part. Just a pinch. Animal Collective have been making music since the turn of the millennium. Even from the start they were uncompromising. Their debut was met with utter bemusement from their record company who complained that it made their dogs run terrified from the room. No one could accuse them of being weird for the sake of weird though; their music has method in’t. It’s spanned across acoustic camp-fire sing-alongs; bright Autumnal gentle experimentalism; freakish, inside-out glitch tapestries and much more, all incorporating just as much substance and craft as shock value.
After their guitarist Deakin took a break from the band, the remaining trio decided to ditch the guitars altogether and make an indie rock album from keyboards and samplers which could fill a massive venue (such as the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland after which the LP is named). They got their wish. ‘Merriweather…’ seems to pound and pummel the senses with its churning textures, but behind the pyrotechnics lie intricately layered melody lines, Beach Boys harmonies and strangely un-trippy lyrics about family, friends and sugar-fuelled frolics in the sun. It clearly is not longed for headphones; this is tailor made for speakers. It was designed to fill the space it’s placed in, so let it. The initial headaches this record might induce in some listeners at the start soon become firework displays and if you dig deeper, you’ll find its emotional core: it’s a strangely sentimental and understanding beast. Take ‘Brother Sport’, written for Panda Bear’s (Noah Lennox) little brother as a word of comfort following the death of their father. The instrumentation is an eloquent, yet dissonant, excursion into indie rock structures, bleep techno, and psychedelica. It’s surprising how well this glittering cacophony can convey different atmospheres. While ‘Summertime Clothes’ is sheer pixie-stick glee, ‘Also Frightened’ turns the tables by sounding both scared and confused as well as oddly comforting.
Maybe Animal Collective have made better records in their time (‘Strawberry Jam’), but ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ is a stunner nonetheless. It’s the kind of thing that will cause debate and division of opinion for generations to come. Those who do eventually fall for this album, however, are in for a treat. It’s the kind of thing that groups of friends will get together and listen to really loud. It’s an album to get lost in. Maybe that’s why it’s become successful: it may be confusing to begin with, but it has good intentions and it drags you off with it to its own bubble, which is what so many of us need these days. The more you get to know the songs, the deeper you can lose yourself in them. Plus if you play it loud it can cause tectonic tremors which is nice. Due to the fact that it was only released in 2009, the influence of ‘Merriweather…’ has yet to reveal itself, but even at this early stage, it sounds like a revolution.