2009 was a formative year for me. It was the year I discovered Andrew Bird, whose music created a desire in me to absorb as much music, music news, music journalism (whatever that is), and musical discussion as possible. In that year, while I was listening to Noble Beast (and I still stand by my opinion that that was the best album to be released that year), the rest of the world was listening to Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion.
I am incredibly torn on both Animal Collective and MPP (and really all of the artists that put out the "top" records that year...Grizzly Bear, The xx, Dirty Projectors, etc.). Don't get me wrong, "Brother Sport" and "Summertime Clothes" are fantastic tracks but on a whole, I have never considered MPP the masterpiece that many consider it to be. I acknowledge that it is a strong record but it just never bowled me over. I also acknowledge that Animal Collective is truly one of the most creative bands around, and I admire their ability to always change their sound from album to album. When they announced their latest record, Centipede Hz, I thought, "Well, I'll give it a whirl." (Frankly, I'll listen to anything.) I expected to be lukewarm and for everyone else to rave about it. I couldn't wait to be incredibly aggravated at all of the hype and accolades and glowing reviews and wank. But I listened to the stream on NPR and immediately liked it (especially "Today's Supernatural," which I admit, I thought was a mess upon initial listens). I liked it enough to actually buy tickets to see Animal Collective. Animal Collective! I was going to see a band I ripped on for three years!
And then the reviews came out.
I knew something was amiss when Pitchfork didn't label it "Best New Music." But it just got worse from there. And instead of basking in the glow of negative Animal Collective reviews, I thought, "this is bizarre. Animal Collective doesn't make bad records!" I'm not going to review Centipede Hz myself. I just know I really, really enjoy it. Is it busy? Sure is. Is it as accessible as MPP? Of course not. And it seems like AnCo knew exactly what they were doing when they made it. Anyone expecting another "My Girls" was seriously mistaken (even though I never really liked that track anyway). I mean, was anyone really expecting another record as poppy as MPP? But Centipede Hz is busy and loud and ugly and I think it all works perfectly as a total package. Don't get me wrong, I love beautiful music (this blog is named after an Andrew Bird lyric after all, right?) but there's something as equally rewarding about listening to loud and ugly and messy music (Patrick Stickles' voice and guitar, the Dirty Projectors' harmonies, etc.) and I think Animal Collective got it.
So, why am I so disappointed by the reviews? AnCo is far from my favorite band. I enjoy the record, I have been listening to it daily, and I am going to see the group in October. But finally I felt, "Yes! I am listening to the same music as the cool kids! I get one of those records" only to find that I was wrong. And it shouldn't effect how I feel about it. And yet, I, as well as many other music fans, often act as though the critics determine what I listen to. But why do we do this? To me, music is the most personal and intimate art form. I've always believed good music can hurt (don't believe me? Listen to Sufjan Stevens' "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us") and there is nothing better than hearing one of your favorite songs live in concert. Or the desire to put a song on repeat and listen to it over and over again. When "Today's Supernatural" clicked for me, all I wanted to do was listen and dance to it. So why do I feel guilty for enjoying Centipede Hz? Why can't I just say, "nope, this is my Animal Collective record and I don't give a shit what you say?" Why even get defensive and angry at the weak reviews? Perhaps because music is so incredibly personal. It's the same way we get when our friends don't agree that that one particular song you forced them to listen to is the greatest song ever written.
So, ignore the critics, right? Or, don't put too much into what they say. Just read the reviews for fun when you're bored at your desk at work. Also, go listen to Centipede Hz and dance to it and you too can fall in love with Avey Tare, all while contemplating if he's actually singing about fruit in "Applesauce" (it is a great track, you know.)