Welcome back to Blinded By The Hype, the newly inaugurated PMA feature in which we revisit some of our top reviewed albums once the hype has died down. In today’s world, music is released at a machine gun pace. It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type scene, and “lately” usually means this week. Rarely do we stop to smell the roses. Even good albums get overlooked as time passes. And we almost never – aside from year end lists – take a look backward. Hindsight is 20-20, and we’d like to apply that retrovision to set the record straight. Hence, Blinded By The Hype. A quick refresher for those of you who might have missed out on the rules the first time around:
1. Only full albums will be re-examined. Tracks are finicky enough to review the first time, and how a single track fares over the course of a few months is more an issue of personal preference than quality. Album grades mean more, album spins mean more, therefore we’ll stick to albums.
2. Only albums that received 80+ grades will be re-examined. No point in re-opening old wounds. If it wasn’t good with the hype, it won’t be good without the hype. Sure, there are albums that get better with time. No doubt about that. But hype isn’t involved there – it’s tracks that are growers and lyrics that are layered. Totally different ballgame, we’ll stick to the initially well-received.
3. Only albums that are at least 3 months old will be re-examined. Hype is all about timing. When an album is released, there is an upswell of buzz that races around the blogosphere. Sometimes that buzz cycle extends for a couple months – there’s the leak, the first single, the release, the second single, etc. So we’ll wait until the dust settles before stirring things up again.
This edition’s focus? Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Album:Merriweather Post Pavilion
Release Date:January 6, 2009
Original Score:90/100 (Rating Scale)
“The strength of this album is certainly in the subtle details; details that sometimes take minutes to reach. This is not an album that you can pick up, listen to the opening hook, and know if you’ll like. Merriweather Post Pavilion is less listener friendly than Feels. Its beats are used more judiciously than in Strawberry Jam. Still, like the AC you’re used to, songs on MPP develop slowly and are built on repetition. For the casual observer, this can become tedious, but fans of previous A.C. work will not only welcome it, but they will also find MPP more mature and stronger than in previous offerings.”
- Jeff Lind, Original PMA Review
“Personally, I think the album’s absolutely brutal, filled with unheard intense electronic pop moments. Truly inventive and sublime. ”
- “Veenagre”, Comment on Original Album Review
Well, what a little pickle I find myself in here, with this here feature. See here’s the thing – if the general reaction to Merriweather Post Pavilion was tough to sort through at its release, it’s nigh on impossible now. On the one hand, some have dismissed it as a product of the hype cycle. They see it as overrated experimental crap, fuzzy for the sake of being fuzzy and shrieky for the sake of being shrieky. Others, however, hold the album up as the savior of indie rock – the initial rallying cry of a year that has seen the release of some of the most inventive records that have come upon the scene in years. What’s a writer to do? Say that I love the album and people will tell me I’m an idiot. Say that I hate it and – you guessed it – people will tell me I’m an idiot.
It is due to this dichotomy - likely the product and resulting backlash of initial buzz – that Merriweather Post Pavilion is a perfect subject for Blinded By The Hype. The album was nothing if not hyped. From the first leak of “Brothersport” onto the ‘nets the buzz was nearly unstoppable. When “My Girls” dropped, the hype reached a fever pitch. Fans everywhere counted days until the release. And once that release date was reached, the hype hardly settled at all. Review after ebullient review hit the books, legions of new fans were recruited, and “My Girls” absolutely dominated the Hype Machine popular page for weeks (months?). It was, perhaps, the definition of a hyped album.
Now we find ourselves nearly seven months removed from that frantic fervor, revisiting an album that seems both impossible to review and impossible to ignore. Damn it all, here’s how I feel.
I feel like I’m supposed to tell you that this album was over-hyped. I feel like I’m supposed to tell you that we all got caught up in some big sham – that Merriweather Post Pavilion isn’t all that great. Hell, there are scores of fans who will tell you it’s Animal Collective’s third or fourth best album. But you know what? They’re wrong. Because this album is phenomenal. It is the summation of every Animal Collective note that came before it, a landmark album from a group that has always pushed the edge of the proverbial envelope , provided that the envelope contained ridiculous jams.
Listening to this album from front to back, I am struck by how consistent it is - there aren’t low points on the record. And although the aforementioned “My Girls” and “Brothersport” do shine through as pinnacles, my favorite moments are found elsewhere on the album: the resolution of frantic keyboards at the beginning of “Daily Routine,” the soaring vocals during “Lion In A Coma,” the explosion of drums halfway through “In The Flowers” that really kicks off the record.
Merriweather Post Pavilion really is just that – a collection of amazing musical moments strung together to form an album. Which, I think, is why many haven’t found the album to their liking. The keyboards and loops are often repetitive. The lyrics aren’t the clearest. The songs sometimes seem like they aren’t going anywhere. But when you stick with them, whoo child, when you stick with them those choice cuts are like the sun breaking through clouds. A musical release of whatever is being held behind the floodgates. Animal Collective hits with a brightness that’s rarely found on an album so organic. Call it buzz or call it hype, but I’m hooked on the rush that those moments deliver.
So here I am, months after the release of Merriweather Post Pavilion, still completely enamored with it. I’ve argued its merits with friends, read opinions from both sides of the spectrum, and after traveling a ways I’ve ended up back where we started. I recognize that there are differences that may never be settled between those who love this album and those who hate it. I realize that some will still criticize this album as being propped up by music critics and Animal Collective fanatics. But I will continue standing in defense of this record as one of the best of the decade. I may still be drinking the Koolaid, but I’m still buzzing on Animal Collective. I’ll support the original 90.
Chris Barth is a columnist here at Pretty Much Amazing. You can read his more succinct daily posts at his music blog, The Stu Reid Experiment.