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So a few weeks ago I went to see Brian Eno have a conversation with his friend Jon Hassell as part of the South Bank’s Ether festival. I was going to write it up, but I actually think it’s probably more interesting (and less work) to just post the hurriedly-typed notes I made in-situ.

The stage was dominated by a giant screen that showed the table top the two men had arranged their stimulus on in massive scale- whether live scribblings, images or pages from Eno’s notebook.

enohassel

It was a broad, wide- ranging chat, but stayed within the realms of the type of things Brian Eno normally talks about- the weird sex stuff was all from Hassell, who I thought was a bit of a waste of space conversationally (maybe this is unfair – he just seemed to keep taking the dialogue into less interesting places as far as I was concerned).

Anyway, this is my record of the two hours:

“Stop moving the ohp!
Not just about making attractive things, creating new worlds
Systems + structures, music as a metaphor for collaborative society
‘Surrender’ a choice vs control
Surfing, bridge building
Human history is the surrender zone
4 areas: art, sex, drugs, religion
Not me, us, the flow
The north owns broadcasting (most powerful technology) an ideology of survival
Science makes opposites that are false
Media pipeline is narrow, demands caricature
Is there always a valid opposite opinion? Culture of agument
Elevate the nutter
Geometry makes equal makes opposite- these are abstractions_
misleading when applied to human affairs
Anus- wordism- desire to control by fencing language
Drug companies- inventing illnesses, not cures (paxil)
Creating by naming (WMD) propagenda
What exists before language? Is weird sex marginalised when it should
be lionised? How much is universal?
Porn does not equal happiness, equals alienation
Pleasure is evolution’s compass- now we’ve virtualised it
Scale effect- a qualitative as well as a quantitative effect. All
political systems work well on a small scale
Intrinsic/conferred value
There is no reality referred to in the credit crisis- it is a belief
system that propagates itself- conferred value is easily unconferred,
intrinsic value is not
Art is all about conferring value (creates something from nothing, is ephemeral)
Most art loses value
We are mixed up
Gold moves between real and abstract
Nearly everything happens in the middle ground, not at the poles
What is it that you really like?
Wanking as surrealist art
Art is valuable because its harmless
Eudemonic criteria
Navigating possible worlds
It exists because it’s non verbal
Charts are v useful!
Being blown off course- haircuts
Real information in cultural choices
Dialectic between control/surrender
Religion is like classical music- an attempt for ecstasy”
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I really ♥ Animal Collective.

Here is a last.fm chart to prove it:

smimarchies-chart1

Now you know this, you may want to not bother reading my review of their new album Merriweather Post Pavilion because of my obvious bias.

I don’t mind if you don’t- it is pretty much a celebration of my own fanboyishness, and I daresay that there are better-written reviews out there anyway.

However, if you are wondering why anyone might enjoy listening to their insane, childish racket (like my wife), then you might find the following interesting from a purely forensic point of view.

A track by track review follows after the jump:

merriweather1

1. With Flowers: This track combines acoustic guitar arpeggios with squelchy atmospherics to create a (typically) hazy and ink-washed bed for folksy-type lyrics about dancers with flowers in their hair. Naturally, halfway through it turns into a banging rave-out, powered by church organ.

Because Dave Portner and Noah Lennox’s vocal harmonies remind me of Simon and Garfunkel, I’ve branded this track a Scarborough Fair for the messy melange of our current decade.

2. My Girls: Quite possibly the most immediate and most ‘pop’ track I’ve ever heard the band produce. It has great call-and-response vocal harmonies, a brilliantly catchy chorus and perhaps most surprisingly a proper bassline you can dance to. The song seems to be a pean to Noah Lennox’s house – celebrating the fact that it protects his wife and daughter from the elements and anthropomorphising it into one of his brothers. Weird, but that comes with the territory, and the song is actually quite touching – and as heartfelt as a love song to a house could be.

3. Also Frightened: This song has a bassline that sounds kind of stumbling and drunk when you first hear it. In fact, it seems like it’s pushing the rest of the song around in a bossy and ungainly way. It’s okay though because after you’ve heard it a few times you realise that the bassline and the rest of the song are actually great friends and go really well together.

Besides that, it has a very rousing vocal harmony near the end thet will suddenly have you sitting up straight thinking ‘where did that come from?’ There’s a lovely melancholy edge to the melody all the way through this track, but it’s definitely the soaring title-singing moment that you’ll remember this one by.

4. Summertime Clothes: To me, this song channels a sort of 1950’s americana; doo-wop music and Archie comics somehow seem appropriate. Maybe it’s because the track rumbles and bounces along seemingly without syncopation (making it practically impossible to dance to without looking like an excited child)- but that’s also part of the slanted innocence that the song celebrates with a chorus that simply proclaims “I want to walk around with you”.

Obviously the track is still chock-full of strange samples and weird grumbling electronics, but at the same time it seems to issue from an earlier, more innocent era.

5. Daily Routine: This is a more classic Animal Collective track. The primary elements are pushing, insistent drums partnered with off-kilter percussion, and a looping, spiralling melody with vocals kept relatively low in the mix. The track holds its structure until roughly the 3 -minute mark, whereupon it begins to dissolve into a loose, droning hum. This is one of the few songs on the album that could possibly have fitted into an earlier album, but that’s no bad thing.

6. Bluish: This track feels dense and foggy, like you have to wade through it. It has a truly lovely chorus, and sounds like it was actually written on an instrument rather than being built up layer by layer using samples. It’s kind of a rock ballad, actually.

I know I’m making a lot of inappropriate comparisons here, but the lyrics, and vocal phrasing and melody make this track feel a bit like  an Animal Collective cover of Spandau Ballet’s True. Which in my estimation is an excellent thing.

7. Guys Eyes: In contrast to the previous track, this song is completely layered up from the bottom using what seems like hundreds of different fragments. An acoustic guitar strum gives impetus to the melody, but with even the vocal tracks denseley layered and phased between the left and right channels, the overall effect is to create  a mosaic of sound that you have to stand back from to make any sense of.

It’s another futuristic-sounding track of the kind that only Animal Collective seem to be able to produce- in terms of provenance it seems to come from everywhere and nowehere, to be exactly apposite for right now but also alien and timeless, like it could have been dug up in an archaeological site. This type of track is the reason that listeners became interested in them in the first place.

8. Taste: As the name possibly suggests, this track is rich, dense and sweet like a fruit cake. A singalong melody, toytronica samples and a minor to major chorus that just feels warm and comforting.

9. Lion In A Coma: This track is like a more ‘grown-up’ version of ‘who could win a rabbit‘ from Sung Tongs. It marries a ‘so-fast-it’s-hard-to-follow’ vocal phrasing with a powerful single-note bassline (played on a digeridoo no less) and nursery-rhyme melodies. It is rapidly becoming my favourite sing on the whole album because it’s so spacious and strange, yet childish and campfire-singalong accessible at the same time.

10. No More Running: Okay, many years ago I left a copy of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Music of My Mind‘ sitting on a record player in the sun, and the damn thing melted into a warped, undulating and ultimately inappropriate 3-D shape. It was a pretty crappy record player too- the speakers enjoyed a loveless long-distance relationship with the stereo where both parties were obviously more interested in pursuing other interests. This song reminds me of trying to listen to that album, post-melt, on that stereo.

So it sounds like a gospel-soul ballad played on a warped record through damaged speakers.

On a rainy day.

11. Brother Sport: What a closer! This track combines African melodies, panpipe synthesizers, tribal rhythms, masses o’ maracas, and a simply huge singalong coda. It pretty much removes Vampire Weekend’s reason to exist. Please leave the room Vampire Weekend.

Overall, the album sounds cleaner and more polished than previous releases- even Strawberry Jam didn’t have this sort of production sheen that actually recalls the sound of the 1980’s in places.

Also, the singing is more restrained- which adds to the sense that this is a more mature album from a more mature band. However, the fact that the album sounds cleaner doesn’t mean that the band’s output feels any less unique. They retain the ability to create odd noises, build medlodies and juxtapose disparate elements in ways that I’ve never heard another band do. In fact, the essential strangeness of their aesthetic is not diminished but enhanced by the move to a more polished production style; it’s just that now you can hear how weird they really are.

I also saw the the band live last week- with all the sensorial stimulation that a packed, sweaty gig provides. Needless to say, they were great.

I urge the musically curious reader to try them out- you might find something truly awesome in their muddlings.

me

I work in media as a strategist. I like art, robots, comics, interaction design, karaoke, wildlife photography, indian food, campari, gaming, American TV (teen drama included), reading non-fiction, reading fiction and listening to music. I also have a tenori-on because I'm so rad.

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