Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion Album Review

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All hail Animal Collective! In the infancy of 2009 the most eagerly anticipated album has dropped. Well, sorta. It was leaked in late 2008 and many music blogs began fueling the fire by posting songs and writing about the album, thereby peaking interest.

I didn’t love Animal Collective’s previous release, “Strawberry Jam”, but was already hooked on them through repeated listens to their releases, “Sung Tongs” and “Feels”. At about the same time, I became the world’s biggest fan of Panda Bear’s 2007 release “Person Pitch”, and didn’t need any convincing anymore. I drank the Kool Aid. If Panda Bear was involved in the album, I was certainly listening to it.

Based on my impression of “Strawberry Jam”, I was not holding my breath for Animal Collective’s new release. In fact, after hearing the title Merriweather Post Pavilion (MPP), I assumed the album to be a live recording and dismissed it out of hand.

Fast forward to the first week of January. I am hit by the figurative 2×4 after listening to “My Girls” and finally pay attention to all the buzz about this new album. I venture over to the Domino Records web site and purchase the 2 LP 180 gram vinyl LP and 300 kbps MP3 download of the new album. They had me at “Hello”.

I have been listening to it for the past two weeks.

This album is a magnificent piece of music. It is an inventive, harmonic, psychedelic album and should reward AC with a slew of new fans. MPP will be their gateway to all things Animal Collective and their pre-existing catalog. Songs like “My Girls” and “Brother Sport” employ a fun, effervescent melody with a pulsating beat topped with honest and emotional lyrics. The layered vocal harmonies, the aural exuberance and the pastiche of tribal sounds are consistent with their hallmark sound. This is still very much an Animal Collective album, and quite simply their best. Other notable tracks are “Taste” and “No More Runnin”.

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Remember When – Paul’s Boutique

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With the impending re-release of The Beastie Boy’s classic Paul’s Boutique, I thought back to the first time I ever heard Paul’s boutique, twenty years ago.

It was 1989, and my friend Chris and I were both huge fans of Licensed to Ill. Licensed to Ill was a debut smash, selling over 5 million copies, and making the Beastie Boys a household name. The expectations were huge and for Paul’s Boutique, as were mine. Once school was out I drove to the record store to pick up the single on cassette (or as I like to call it, a “cassingle”) as the album was not released yet. I quickly hustled over to Chris’ house with cassette in hand for my first listen. My ride was a 1982 Ford Fairmont, which rocked an AM only radio and lacked any type of cassette, 8 track or otherwise. I just held the cassette in my hand while I drove, checking out the cover artwork at red lights. Once at Chris’ house we popped in the cassingle of “Hey Ladies/Shake your Rump” into his Panasonic boom box and opened our ears. WOW. This was nothing like Licensed to Ill. The feeling seemed less aggressive, the lyrics smarter and more polished. But what really got under my skin were the samples. The pastiche of sounds that the Dust Brothers used to create the aural experience was just beautiful. That afternoon we listened to “Hey Ladies/Shake your Rump” over and over again, calling out the song titles of the samples that we recognized, starting with Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times”. Little did I know that once I had the entire album, I would perform that ritual for each song, and each sample on the album.

The single whet my appetite and I copped the album on its day of release. This was not one of the albums that is a slow burn – that you don’t “get” or “love” until your 100th listen. I feel in love with it upon my first listen. I was hooked and felt the need to evangelize Beastie Boy greatness to all who would listen. Each song is a hit. In fell more credit needs to be given to the Dust Brothers. They had a major hand in creating this rich, layered recording. The music is built sample by sample and the end result is an extraordinary rewarding experience for the listener. Plus, the Beastie Boys just nail the rhymes. When I mentioned I was going to write up a blog entry on Paul’s Boutique to two friends of mine, they both had the exact same response; “I’m so dope, they call me Mr. Roper” (disclosure: the actual line is “I’m so rope…”). See, I am not alone; this is what is meant by classic, two people quoting a rhyme that is 20 years old! Ironically, Paul’s Boutique failed to come close to the success of Licensed to Ill, and the record label stopped promotion and let the album perform on its own merits. As years go by, the album has really stood the test of time. In fact, “Paul’s Boutique” is considered by most critics to be the Beastie Boy’s landmark album. The classic if you will.

I got my milk and my two step.

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I never wanted to be that Pottery-Barn-Dad. I recall being horrified by the very notion of a stroller. I never dreamed of being a family man, nor was I overly eager to acquire more responsibility than absolutely necessary. I like to mountain bike and ski, although I rarely do either any more. I like a wide range of alternative music, from MF Doom to Sufjan Stephens, from Television, to Radiohead. Yet somehow, here I am, the thirty seven year old father of two, with a steady job, a mortgage to pay, and a wife. Ask me how it happened, and I’m not sure I could tell you.

Despite the time pressures placed on me, what with my career and fatherly responsibilities, I still find time to keep up with the latest music releases. Often, however, my wife and I are compelled to listen covertly to many hip hop albums due to the language we don’t want to hear repeated by our two and four year old daughters. This summer, when the Girl Talk “Feed the Animals” album was released, not only did my wife and I listen to the album constantly, playing “name that sample”, but our judgment became slightly impaired. We began listening to Feed the Animals in broad daylight, in the car with our children. And so it was, one evening late this Fall, when I, dear old Dad, heard my two year old singing, “I got my drink and my two step, my drink and my two step” (the hook from the Cassidy song of the same name). My daughter, being the comedian that she is, began to take creative license with Cassidy’s original. Last week, she could be heard singing “I got my milk and my two step, my milk and my two step” through the kitchen as she swaggered along with a sippy cup full of cow juice in her fat little hand. Hilarious, cute, charming, witty and all those good things. Yes, that is my daughter Maya. My greatest fear is that she will start singing Spankrock’s “Put that p_ _ _ y on me” from the top of the jungle gym for all to hear.

I believe Gregg Gillis’ talent is more than a wistful mashup of catchy pop and hip hop samples. He has created something entirely new, a music that appeals to listeners for whom his witty nostalgia has no context. There are more than three hundred different songs sampled on Girl Talk’s latest album. For my preschool aged daughters, Gillis’ rapid fire loops hold as great an appeal as any rhyming ditty sung during preschool circle time.

My wife and I have heard both daughters repeat snippets of inappropriate language they hear in the car when “Dada” plays his hip hop. How to explain the occasional potty mouth of my darling daughters is the quandary I find myself in. The fact that their potty talk is sung repetitively in catchy phrases further complicates the matter. It’s hard to get a catchy song out of your head, especially when your parent is asking you to stop. My eldest daughter came home from a sleep over at Auntie Nancy’s last week singing lyrics from Missy Elliot’s “Work it”. At least I know I’m not the only bad influence in her life.

Hey GZA, what’s in a label?

When a friend asked me what my favorite record labels were, I really had to think. My first thought was, does it matter? As a listener, I didn’t see why I should care about record labels. After some thought, I realized that like any good manager, a good record label encourages musicians to connect with fans, create excellent music, and to further explore and develop their talents. My favorite bands are signed to labels like Sub Pop, Barsuk, Up, Domino, Jagjaguwar and Matador. These labels by all accounts employ music fans first and foremost. They love and nurture their roster and are working with bands to create innovative ways to release albums and to connect with new listeners through creative marketing.

Two weeks ago I went to the Domino website to see if the new Animal Collective album was for sale. It was available on 2 LP 180 gram vinyl packaged with a MP3 download coupon. Fantastic, sign me up and count me in, I want that package. To me that is a win-win. The consumer, me, purchases an audiophile vinyl copy that I can listen to at home, and picks up the added value of the MP3 download. Also, I get the whole package before the official release date. The label gets my email address and information and now they can market directly to me via email. They also now have the data that tells them that I buy vinyl and am a fan of Animal Collective. Again, win-win. This is what I want from my favorite labels – a personal connection, a reason to keep coming back, be remarkable, offer added value. Otherwise, why pledge allegiance to a label? For instance Domino just “gets it” and is interested in not just selling CDs, but building and fostering a relationship between its roster of bands and consumers that purchase their music.

Favorite albums of 2008

Bon Iver – Emma, Forever Ago

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This is certainly the album I listened to the most in 2008. First let me start with the back story. A guy named Justin relocates from North Carolina to Wisconsin after the breakup of a relationship and his band. It’s the winter, he’s living in a cabin, and while there, he writes and records the songs on this album. He appropriately chooses the pseudonym Bon Iver (bonne l’hiver, or good winter) for the project. This is a wonderful, intimate recording. The songs are sung in a falsetto and the lyrics are quite personal. As a friend once remarked while listening to it, “You can live inside these songs”. And that just about sums it up. Stand out tracks include “Re:Stacks” and “For Emma”.

Girl Talk – Feed the Animals

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Greg Gillis’ latest is more of the same, but in this case, that’s a good thing. My wife Jamie and I listened to this all summer, and if we weren’t the parents of two young children, we would have listened to it more. Due to the fact that most of the samples are from current hip hop releases, the lyrics are profane to say the least. For those unfamiliar with Girl Talk, it is a project by Greg Gillis that mashes up common pop songs with current R & B and Rap. Trust me it works. This is a fun, catchy album that rewards repeated listens by revealing more of the samples with each listen. It is plain to see that Greg Gillis is a pop music enthusiast judging by the sheer volume of samples included on “Feed the Animals”.

Department of Eagles – In Ear Park

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I never really LOVED Grizzly Bear until I picked up the “Friend” EP released in 2007. The “Friend” EP turned me, but until that moment, I just wasn’t a fan. It seemed like everyone else couldn’t get enough of them; KEXP, the blogs, the press, I just didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Now, this album is NOT Grizzly Bear, but it does feature Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear. And it definitely sounds Grizzly Bearish; only folkier and popier. If you like your folk/pop with the occasional horn coupled with intelligent lyrics, this is for you. If you are already a Grizzly Bear fan, then my guess is you will love this.

MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

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This came out in early 2008 and I listened to it daily for at least a month. This is just a fantastic, psychedelic pop album that is heavy on the keyboard and bass. Produced by the Flaming Lips’ producer Dave Fridman, this is an album of very catchy, Bowiesque pop. The first single and opener on the album, “Time to Pretend” is an infectious, pulsating commentary on being a rock star that will have you singing along after repeated listens. Other favorites include “Kids” and “Electric Eel”.

Santogold/Diplo – Top Ranking: A Diplo Dub

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Here’s my dirty little secret… I didn’t really dig Santogold’s official debut release at all. Sure I liked the songs “Creator” and “L.E.S. Artistes”, but after listening to the whole album, I was kind of like, “eh”. I was just not feeling it. Then I stumbled on the MP3 for “Guns of Brooklyn” on the Fader Blog. Whoa! This song rocked. After some investigation, I learned that this song would be featured on a mix tape (in other words, not legal) coming out on the Mad Decent label, and get this, being produced by Diplo. The hunt was on. After listening to just that one song, I just knew this album would not disappoint, and it hasn’t. It is killer! It is a dub mix consisting of 35 tracks featuring classic Jamaican riddims all mixed and mashed with Santogold originals by the man behind the controls, none other than Diplo.

Thao with The Get Down Stay Down – We Brave Bee Stings and All

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This album is a unique hybrid of folk and indie-pop that just does not quit. Thao Nguyen is the singer and songwriter and the Get Down Stay Down is the band. The musicians are fantastic and the lyrics are quite imaginative. Thao’s expressive voice rings with conviction and emotion that is reminiscent of Chan Marshall of Cat Power. The band does a great job of crafting a sound that is both whimsical and fun, yet at times frenetic and jangly. Recommended tracks include “Swimming Pools”, “Geography” and the title track; which features a most peculiar line – “we splash our eyes full of chemicals, just so there’s none left for little girls”. Seems to me she is speaking of the need to sacrifice for the betterment of the next generation. Heady stuff for a 23 year old.

Bang! Bang! Eche! – Bang! Bang! Eche! (EP)

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The first time I heard this band, I loudly proclaimed, “these guys are my new favorite band!”. I had the good luck to hear BBE on the KEXP simulcast from CMJ this year. The band was playing on Cheryl Waters’ show, and I was hooked. This album demands to be played loud and encourages dancing. Disclaimer: Dance-punk is a guilty pleasure and a major weakness for me. These guys do it right; they feature fantastic musicians and a lead vocalist that seems to enunciate each syllable. He seems to “speak” the lyrics, rather than singing them. Somehow this just works. These guys are young, (ages range from 18 – 20) from New Zealand and this EP is available for free download from the band’s MySpace page. What are you waiting for? Go get it and enjoy!

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

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I think that by this point, most have heard of this band, if not heard them yet. Despite all the press, and all the hype, these guys deserve praise. They are really responsible for bringing the Afro-Pop sound back to a place of prominence in pop music. Like Steely Dan before them, Vampire Weekend write lyrics about what it’s like to be a young, college aged person with a connection to the East Coast. The music is sounds a bit like Paul Simon’s Graceland funneled through a Jonathan Richman soundscape.

No Age – Nouns

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It’s hard to believe that two people can create this kind of a sound. This is a sparse, yet noisy melodic punk album. On “Nouns”, No Age has produced an album that is more accessible than their earlier work. The recipe that No Age seems to rely on is the following: take some drums and guitar, create a melody and wrap the whole thing up in loose, thick, wet towel. Distortion and noise are No Age’s friends, and if that is your thing, run right out and pick this up. The standout track and my pick for song of the year is “Eraser”. Go check ‘em out.

Jake One – White Van Music

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In a bad year for hip-hop, this is one that stands out. Jake One, beat maker extraordinaire and now resident beat maker for G-Unit owns the title of Best Hip Hop Album of the Year. The beats are fantastic and the list of rappers is impressive. Jake has enlisted all the big names he has worked with in the past for this release. My favorite track on this album is “Glow” featuring Elzhi and Royce Da 5’9” on the mics. Other notable MCs on this are MF Doom, Posdnous, E-40, Prodigy and Freeway. This album harkens back to ’90s hip-hop in terms of production, sounding like something Pete Rock or DJ Premier could have released.