Is Animal Collective the New Moby?
Contending with underground music's latest oversaturated originals
Since back in October when I first heard the new Animal Collective album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and later enthusiastically trekked through a windswept rainstorm to a listening party at Manhattan’s River Room — an oddly swelegant bar/restaurant (“Harlem’s Tavern on the Green”) perched hard on the Hudson River at the end of an endless concrete walkway off Riverside Drive — I’ve been babbling about how wonderful and original and transcendent it is, how it single-handedly reinvents indie rock and electronic dance music,and how it makes me wish I still took E (or 2CB) or whatever designer party pill is making the clubscum rounds.
After several free whiskeys at the River Room, a co-worker and I were concocting plans to throw a way outer-borough warehouse party where we’d get some cool-ass young DJ (like James Murphy’s current weed carrier) to spin and rewind and cut/mash up Merriweather Post Pavilion for, like, 10 hours straight (some insane Danny Tenaglia, where-we-gettin’-brunch? marathon) backed by, say, the best visual extravaganza you could finagle from a Pratt Institute Digital Arts major. Yep.
Three months of universal gushing later — after even Entertainment Weekly weighed in with an “A-” review (what’s next, Vanity Fair pumpin’ “My Girls” and “Brother Sport” at their Oscars Party while Brangelina space dances?) — the hype-o-meter has hit Orange Alert.
Last time I remember hearing an album this far in advance and unexpectedly, perhaps irrationally, thinking that it was a semi-historic reinvention, was Moby’s Play in 1999. I wrote Spin‘s rave lead review of that album without having talked to anybody else who’d heard the record and legitimately believed that, if not artistically momentous, it was an ingenious and accomplished, even moving, achievement. It nodded to so-called electronica’s often-overlooked African-American roots in a clever, evocative way, hack hack cough. It seemed to capture some sort of musical/cultural zeitgeist, for lack of a better word (though the opaque harmlessness of the term actually fits perfectly).
But after all 18 songs were flogged on countless soap operas, sitcoms, DiCaprio vehicles, and commercials for Microsoft, Maxwell House, et al., I prayed I’d never have to hear the godforsaken thing again (every time I blearily pulled into a Starbucks on the New Jersey Turnpike, I trembled in fear of Bessie Jones’ poor decontextualized voice floating up fromsome asswipe’s grande Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha). And now, an oversaturation similar to what Moby willfully engendered via multi-platform licensing over more than a year could be happening, somewhat organically, to Animal Collective — even before their album’s official release and without the attendant financial windfall — via blogs, websites, YouTube, and assorted online jabberwocky.
But eventual overhyping aside, with both Play and Merriweather Post Pavilion, I realized from the very beginning that a decent amount of my exhilaration had nothing to do with the quality of the music — it stemmed partly from a feeling that this artist I’d liked/ respected/ rooted for, but who had remained pop-culturally marginal, had finally made a record so immediately pleasurable and accessible that it might appeal to people who generally hate this kind of shit.
But why does that remotely matter? Why care that people who are predisposed to hate Moby or Animal Collective might grudgingly admit that they don’t really suck? Is it simply because of an altruistic urge to share great music with the world, and as a result, make the world a better, more enriched, place? Well, if I were a DJ at an NPR-affiliated station, that line might work, but otherwise, nah. Is it because Spin has thrived on documenting that moment when underground bands emerge onto a larger, more mainstream stage and belaboring/ speculating upon the issues related to said evolution makes for reliable copy? Possibly.
More honestly, it’s likely just due to some low-self-esteem personal validation (see, my taste isn’t that arbitrarily bad) or because I don’t wanna think of myself as a dickwad elitist, or because it’s a hoot to have something you genuinely enjoy be popular for a change, rather than convince yourself to appreciate something after the fact (Radiohead), because it’s vastly better than all the other garbaggio out there that lots of people like. Of course, by acknowledging this nagging desire, I’m also acknowledging that my critical judgment is pathetically flawed.
In other words, will I be sick of hearing/hearing about Merriweather Post Pavilion six months from now (though it’s hard to imagine them licensing “Lion in a Coma” to Nokia)? Probably. Unless there’s a backlash, and then I can get in on the cutting edge of defending it. How hopelessly lame is that?
Frankly, though, the only reason I’m worrying about any of this (instead of listening to the record), is because of an obsessively ingenious deconstruction of the entire phenomenon titled “Animal Collective Is a Band Created By/ For/ On the Internet” by Hipster Runoff’s enigmatically brilliant impresario Carles. If Merriweather Post Pavilion is the year’s No. 1 Album so far, then this is the year’s No. 1 Blog Post (and to call it a “post” feels insulting and ridiculous, since it’s among the most imaginative creative writing/performance pieces about pop culture ever).
Like the best of Carles’ spew, the “AnCo” project is so specifically and exhaustively (and viciously) satirical, while at the same so dizzying self-aware, that it literally can be terrifying to read if you’re invested at all in what’s being discussed. In this case, he may leave the most devoted, aesthetically risk-taking Animal Collective boffin bereft on a Brooklyn streetcorner, moaning wanly: “Does this mean I have to give up and listen to Justice remixes and shop at American Apparel for the rest of my natural life (or until daddy shuts off the spigot)”?
Carles simultaneously makes you feel like a delusional douchebag for caring about anything vaguely “alternative” (a.k.a., an “alt-bag”) while also inspiring you to enthusiastically question everything you believe (which is what “alternative” culture should be doing, if it’s got any meaning or value whatsoever). Like so many of my favorite songs, it makes me wanna embrace the wonders of existence one day, and fucking off myself the next. It’s a public service, it’s a public menace, it invalidates the very essence of Spin, and it’s what you should be reading right now.