The Problem of Animal Collective

Let me say at the outset that I consider myself a seasoned and broadly exposed listener to all things musical.  I think my auditory taste is as refined as any that I am normally exposed to.  Which is what makes my experience with Animal Collective all the more bothersome. Several years ago, my good friend/ex-roommate told me that he had found a new sound.   It is not uncommon for us to trade music back and forth and I was intrigued with the exuberance that the gentleman in question had for his new find.  Two discs came in the mail and I put them into my rotation.  So it was that I first heard Animal Collective.

Listening to Animal Collective is a particularly odd experience.  The "songs" are not anything that even remotely approaches the mainstream conception of the term.  Tracks on their many discs (nine full length albums and three EP's have been published in the past eight years) are densely layered audio collages containing a myriad of noises from disparate places, typically replete with vocals that best embody what Frank Zappa once described as "pitched mouth noises."

In short, it is not an easy group to wrap one's head around.

Anyone who can stomach a sound like the one given forth by Animal Collective will find themselves forced to admit that they don't understand all of it and they completely understand that what they are listening to is, on some level, brilliant.  Animal Collective is the rare group that has defeated me.  The idea that any of it can be played live is outside of my understanding of the Universe.

For the new year, we are presented with "Merriweather Post Pavilion" (site of a personally famous episode involving lost tickets and redemption).  The album is quite possibly the most easy Animal Collective experience for the listener.  One has to take note of the reception that the album has received.  It is the highest rated new release of 2009 so far according to metacritic, engendering such praise as "one of the landmark American albums of the century so far."

And so it is that I am in the wholly unfamiliar position of not understanding something that seems to be great.  Hopefully, the wheels will finally click into place after several more listenings.  But if they don't, it's always refreshing to know that music continues to find a way to astound and stupefy even this most jaded of listeners.