Review Summary: Freak folk at its ugliest, from a band we thought could do no wrong. Gutting.
3 of 5 thought this review was well written
Ok – I ‘get’ bands that try to be, or just inherently are, weird. If they do the unconventional, stuff that would be frowned upon by passers by, that may not be instantly likable, yet has that tantalising aura of something that will reward your persistence should you choose to stick with it; it’s those records that turn out to be favourites. Animal Collective are one such band that have challenged me in this way. Before Merriwether Post Pavilion, I would have been afraid of any music that ventured outside the boundaries of the conventional guitar setup. Afterward, I am ashamed to admit that that was even the case. Both Feels and Strawberry Jam defied me at first with their overwhelming weirdness – now, both can be counted among my favourite records. But it was only because these albums had at least some inkling of being amazing – that feeling you sometimes get when you just know that, one day, you will fall in love with this music – that I stuck with them.
And yet again, the Collective seem to assault my obviously conceited, small-minded opinion of what does and does not constitute enjoyable music. Obviously, when I sat down with Hollinndagain I would come to hate it at first, then begin to accept it, before embracing it wholeheartedly and welcoming it as an old friend... but the plan has gone awry. There is no light at the end of the tunnel here, no sense of ‘don’t worry, it’ll be good one day’. I hate it to say it, but if there was any glow of that, it has been horribly crushed by an album that comes across as just plain bad, no matter how open minded you want me to be about it.
The very first question posed is what we end up asking for the rest of the album; “what on earth are they doing?”. After a minute or so of wondering if we’re listening to an uninteresting sound check, some noise begins to form. It’s like listening to a recording of explosive popcorn, inside a cardboard box, down the other end of a great hollow pipe, recorded on a crappy cellphone. This sounds far cooler than it actually is; it’s abrasive, annoying and boring all at the same time. There’s some singing in this, actually, but it sounds like Thom Yorke’s is in the next room, wailing like a banshee at his most incoherent. There’s a melody too, apparently, but it just grates and wears you down. And umm… that’s it. There’s precious little musical activity, and what there is only annoys. This track and the next (not unlike each other) are 10 minutes long apiece, and that I have almost exhausted their entire musical (if you can call it that) worth in this short space should say volumes of what there is to actually enjoy; or rather, greet with distaste.
And yet, the grating of Hollinndagain does not frustrate quite as much as the abysmal sense of progression – or rather, lack thereof. Granted, it has its loud and quiet bits, but they are strung out at random intervals and only worsen the nails-on-blackboard aura of everything else. But it’s worse than that; ever so cruelly, there will be a tantalising element of music – the drums may have an increase in volume that is, for once, cohesive, or maybe what little melody there is will switch from fuzzy and painful mode to fuzzy and boring mode, or perhaps the lyrics might be actually understandable for a fraction of a second - that they are building up to something big that they’ve surely been planning all along, and perhaps gives a feeling that this mess might be salvageable yet. But any hopes we may have built up are quickly scattered as once again everything disintegrates into a swamp of ‘ugh’-nes. It’s like a toothache that for a few fleeting moments feels like it’s going away, but upon it’s return feels twice as bad for the brief sensation of relief it replaces. So frequent is this occurrence that it soon becomes predictable. We even get the feeling that they are enjoying dashing the hopes of anyone hoping for a gleam of something enjoyable.
Maybe you’re thinking, “But freaky, weird and quirky stuff is exactly my kind of thing”. Firstly, it’s mine too; secondly, using any of those adjectives conveys a chance that enjoyment might be found in them, when, rest assured, none can be. It’s just so overwhelmingly abrasive, and that we’re given ever so fleeting glimpses of what could have been (and what, mercifully, did come into being sometime roundabout ‘Feels’) only make us want to stop listening all the faster. While you may manage to give it the grace for a first listen, you won’t be wanting a second any time soon. I’ll admit; I have only listened to this album once before writing this review. Surely I should have given this more time? Well, no. The light of a chance that this would ever do the usually inevitable ‘grow’ thing that the Collective seem so magically adept at was well and truly stamped out on the first listen. I definitely don’t want to listen again – not only because it would be agonizing, but because I couldn’t be more convinced of this not getting any better with persistence as many albums do. Animal Collective have done the unthinkable, nay, surely the undoable for a band that knows no wrong, and obliterated that hope. Crushingly disappointing.
for someone who's not acquainted with experimental music, this really isnt something i'd expect you to like.
if feels and sj took a while to grow on you, i dunno how you could possibly expect to like pre sung tongs AC.
you have to remember that these guys were underground as fuck. people exploring the back catalog of AC because of MPP are going to be disappointed. this is music that the band probably never intended to be able to reach such a wide audience, because it ISNT accessible. some people just can't appreciate it.
also, this is a live album, you failed to mention that, and your comments on this tell me you've never actually been to a noise show.
if you want to get into early ac, listen to spirit or here comes the indian before trying on their live shit.
live album: you could call this a studio album and you would be very hard pressed to tell the difference, really, so I think that it's mostly inconsequential, especially given that nearly everything here doesn't have a studio version for it to be compared to anyway.
kitsch: you're right, I'm not the most qualified to talk about freak folk, as I haven't heard alot and what I have heard has gone pretty much entirely into the 'boring' category, while this is pretty firmly in 'painful and boring' :p
more AC can't be a bad thing, surely, so I will look more into the back catalogue at some point. I was expecting it to be a land completely devoid of any sort of pop or catchiness, but this was just ugh : (
and thanks for your opinion!
animal collective basically have two progressions.
the first one takes the sound they carved out on "spirit they've gone, spirit they've vanished" and the proceeding albums take that sound to its most loopy, trippy, abrasive expansions.
the second one starts with sung tongs, where they stripped down their sound and built it back up with a lot more pop influence.
so in order to fully "understand" the groups progression and how they got to something as mind-fuckingly weird as hollinndagain, you need to start at the beginning and listen in chronological order, because each album build on the last one.
and just because it doesn't have a studio counterpart doesn't mean that the songs should be treated as if theyre not played live. noise shows have a very different musical aim.
so this makes more sense in its context, is basically what you're saying. I can appreciate that, but I don't think I'll be properly convinced after further exploration of the early stuff that making sense/being in a context will make this any better, really. which might be a bit harsh, but there really isn't anything to appreciate here, I feel.