As far as I’m concerned, this is where Animal Collective died. Sure, the preceding solo albums, Down There and Tomboy weren’t good at all, but the former was an Avey Tare solo record (the fuck did you expect?) and the latter had a few fetching melodies buried in the reverb. And after Centipede Hz we got another Avey Tare solo record that wasn’t good at all (the fuck did you expect?) and another Panda Bear solo record that everyone ate up because guy’s got a nice voice; the moment I heard him use the melody of “Arabesque #2” and followed it up with a random blast of sound because that’s the only thing he knows how to do on Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper was when I decided that Centipede Hz wasn’t a fluke. Here, one of the few good Pitchfork-approved bands of the naughties entered the studio/new decade without a single idea, so they just threw everything they had at the record/the wall and hoped it stuck. It sucked instead.
What little that doesn’t:
1. The loud smacking drums of “Moonjock,” which Avey Tare will milk throughout the entirety of Enter the Slasher House and the melodic/harmonic “In the back” hook.
2. The “LELELELELELEGO” hook on “Today’s Supernatural,” and when Avey Tare switches it up into a more visceral one (“LELELELELELEGO!) at the 1:27 mark. It’s catchy, in a sing-along/shout-along way though that hook hardly constitutes a melody.
3. The “I’d rather not say no” hook on “Rosie Oh,” whose broken chords provide some sort of melodic backdrop for the song (which is a lot more than I can say for the rest of the album), though broken chords hardly constitute a melody.
4. The percussion during the choruses of “Applesauce.”
That’s it, and not only do all four of those moments come during the first four songs (two of which are the album’s singles), none of them match up to the band’s best songs. In fact, “Moonjock” and “Applesauce” run on for far too long; “Today’s Supernatural” might as well end at that very moment where it plays its hand (although it continues for 3 minutes more with no melody in sight); “Rosie Oh” ends randomly as testament to the amount of fucks that the band could give about their fans. For all the talk about Animal Collective as the new Beach Boys, their prowess wasn’t in vocal harmonies but rather their sweeping vocal melodies. As mentioned, you don’t get that here. You don’t get the weirdness of Sung Tongs, the ambiance of Feels or Person Pitch, and with Deakin rejoining the band, you don’t get Merriweather Post Pavilion. Instead you get the worst songs off Strawberry Jam; no “Fireworks,” no “For Reverend Green.” (Deakin contributes “Wide Eyed” which sounds novel for about a minute before it doesn’t for another four.)
As for Panda Bear, the band’s most likeable and most talented member? He’s not here. Well, he is but he’s also not. The New York Times‘ Ben Ratliff: “The last studio album, Merriweather Post Pavilion,” had comparatively more open space, medium tempos, and a lot more Panda Bear, who restricts himself emotionally as he tries to make his limited voice beautiful. This record is dominated, even saturated, by Avey Tare, who does not […] this is Avey Tare’s album.
Mr. Portner, generally, sings louder, more continuously and more hyperactively than he needs to. His pitch is true, and he works to make his vocal melodies jump over harmonically static backgrounds, but he uses a woozy-sounding digital filter to destabilize the experience of hearing him; he jabbers and shouts, stuffing syllables into the lines, childlike outsider-art logorrhea.”
Anyway, I watched a YouTube video of the band performing live and it told me that they sucked, their singing was laughably off-key and they were unable to hide that fact in their usual wall of sound because they couldn’t bring as many overwhelming samples and synths into the set as they are in studio. But people ripped at me, “You can’t judge a band’s live ability from a YouTube video,” and when they came to Toronto in 2013 touring Centipede Hz, I caved and bought a ticket because I like four of their albums to varying degrees (five, if we count solo albums) and because three of my good friends were going with. Terrible decision; waste of $90 (the ticket itself was only $40-some, but add to this the cost of food and beer and … other stuff) but at least it taught me that you can judge a band’s live ability from a YouTube video.
The band played seven songs, each one stretched to twice their normal lengths because of an extended (and boring) intro at the start of each. They didn’t say a word throughout that wasn’t a lyric (not even the obligatory “we love Toronto” because, again, zero fucks), and then peaced (without an encore). The band thought it would be cool to decorate the set to resemble the cover of Centipede Hz (because the cover is worth repeating). My friend turned to me halfway through what sounded like a circa-2012 Smashing Pumpkins’ cover of “Comfy in Nautica” and asked me with dopey eyes if they might play “Summertime Clothes.” I told her, “We’ll see”, but I meant, “I doubt it.” During a 10-minute version of “Wide Eyed,” I watched pathetically as two polite girls nodded along awkwardly the entire time. When “My Girls” finally exploded, I watched as three bros crowd-surfed, continuing into “Brother Sport.” They stopped after that and the security kicked everyone out as “Little Fluffy Clouds” played on the stereo (great song). Someone swore at the band, and I imagine it was one of those bros, angered by the waste of M. My friend turned and said “That’s it?” Discussing the concert later with a different friend, I confirmed that they only played seven songs and he said “Oh, I didn’t notice how short it was,” while implying that he was on something.
You kind of have to be for this shit.