Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Favorite (and Least Favorite) Music of 2013

Before going any further, I want to stress that the following is solely based on my stubborn, crotchety opinion. I wouldn't deign to call this a "best of" list, because with Yeezus on so many "best of" lists this year it's obvious I have no clue what "best of" even means anymore. So this is just stuff I really liked and stuff I really didn't like, and if you don't like it, well, make a goddamn list of your own. This isn't in any order, or anything, and I'm still not sure how many albums I'll even have on here, so I'm not numbering shit. Take that, Buzzfeed.

Albums I Really Liked This Year

Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold Tally All the Things That You Broke 
Purists will say that Light Up Gold was originally released on Andrew Savage's own label in 2012, so even though it came out on the much larger What's Your Rupture? in early 2013 it shouldn't really count. To which I say, "Sorry, nerd, I stopped listening an hour ago," or maybe just "Shut up, putz!" Every year or two, us old indie farts who miss the likes of Pavement and Sonic Youth get treated to a bunch of whippersnappers with wacky lyrics and busted guitars, and Parquet Courts are this year's model (yes, nerd, this year!) And they're from Brooklyn, I think! As if the album wasn't totally dope, we also got the EP, which includes "You've Got me Wonderin' Now," one of my favorite songs of the year.  
Bleached - Ride Your Heart
I know they're a band, but Bleached is really about the (not Cliff) Clavin sisters and their awesomely catchy-but-also-scuzzy pop songs. Sort of like teenage love jams in beer-soaked denim, or a slower Ramones. I don't know, I love it, though. I was on board from their first couple of singles, so it was especially satisfying to see they had the goods over an entire album.  
OMD - English Electric
I thought maybe my love for this album was largely the result of OMD's super-fun set at Coachella, but it still sounds all bleepy and bloopy in the best possible way all these months later. Their return from the ash heap of an acid-washed bygone era a couple of years ago was no fluke.  
My Bloody Valentine - m b v
It's not as good as Loveless, though I suppose it doesn't really have to be. That I'm still listening to most of it months later and still loving it means it was more than just the thrill of new My Bloody Valentine. Half of it is classic, and none of is is inessential. What more could I ask for than that?  
Savages - Silence Yourself
Unlike Kanye's celebrated shitshow, here's a hyped album I can actually get with. I don't know what I could add that I haven't seen elsewhere, except this makes me want to jump around and maybe overthrow the government or something. I messed up and missed their set at Coachella because I saw their name and figured they were some dumb band I wouldn't like. I was wrong. This is post-punk glory.  
Exit Calm - The Future Isn't What It Used to Be
This band should be massive, but they're still just bubbling under the surface, ready to explode. Their sophomore album has the goods to make up the difference. Epic in the best sense, the songs are anthemic and breathtaking, the musicians right on fucking point. Like the best bits of the Verve with the best bits of U2. And while the debut was also brilliant, they've condensed their sound, un-muddied the way the drums were recorded, and absolutely killed it here. They need to pack a suitcase and come play NYC already, because I've been to England three times in the past two years and they haven't been playing shows during any of those visits.  
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
I'm totally fine with admitting that part of the reason I love this album so much is that it was such a disappointment to people who expected more of the same. Heavy Chic, and I can dig that.  
Disclosure - Settle
I have very little use for genres, especially when it comes to electronic music. I only know that under that particularly massive umbrella, I either love it or hate it, and there's very little falling into the vast chasm between the extremes. The Lawrence brothers look like a couple of kewpie dolls, but the sound they make is absolutely irresistible to me. My pal Nick did sound for them at Central Park, and...Well, I'll leave that alone. Love the album, though.  
Toy - Join the Dots
The easiest comparison would be the Horrors, though they're less imposing, perhaps. Then again, their sophomore effort does begin with a seven-minute instrumental I'm likely to skip past every time I hear it come on from now until the end of time. But the rest of the album is good fun, satisfying some late-'80s/early '90s indie urge in my subconscious. Hoping the hirsute quintet gets their Visa issues sorted in 2014. 
King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath the Moon
 Like Billy Bragg, minus the smirk. I was definitely late to the King Krule party, though I'd read about him well before the album actually came out. But as the weather started nosediving here in NYC, this wonderfully stark album with the haunting voice found its way into my limited radar, and I'm in love. Archy Marshall's music is like Jake Bugg filtered through Mike Skinner's filthy lens. I enjoy Bugg, but I think King Krule is going to stick with me for a lot longer. 
Torres - Torres
 Torres, a.k.a. Mackenzie Scott, is not dissimilar to King Krule in that the music clearly comes from a deeply personal, often uncomfortable place. I'd only casually listened a bit before my friends Chris and Angela were staying with us after our wedding and we all went to see Torres at Glasslands. "She looks like Eve," they told me more than once, and while I thought, okay, sure, a little after looking at the album cover, in person she really, really does. That's Eve, my wife, not Eve the actress/hip-hop artist. When she plays, Scott looks like she's tearing through some painful shit, and it is mesmerizing. The album took on a whole new meaning for me after that. 
Toro Y Moi - Anything in Return
 "Still Sound" was one of my favorite singles of 2011, and Underneath the Pine one of my favorite albums of the same year. Anything in Return is even heavier on the discount synths, and it's all the better for it. Like King Krule and Torres, Toro Y Moi is largely the work of a single musician plying his trade under a goofy moniker. Chaz Bundick is from South Carolina, and has been tagged as one of the forebears of chillwave. I don't know or care what any of that means, I only know I quite like Toro Y Moi, nearly enough to see him alongside all the jerky kids at the House of Vans when we still lived over in Greenpoint.Anything in Return is catchy as fuck in the best possible way.
Cate Le Bon - Mug Museum
Cate Le Bon is Welsh, which I only mention because I still crack up when I think of riding the city tram in Manchester a couple of months ago and hearing heavily-accented Welsh being spoken by two drunks: It sounded like a half-melted cassette tape being played in reverse. Cate Le Bon doesn't sound like that, though. She's been described as a modern-day Nico, and I can see the comparison, as there's a stark Velvet Underground sound to much of her music, and her voice is disarmingly sweet and haunting. Cyrk and Cyrk II were among my favorites of 2012, and Mug Museum is right up there in quality and weirdness. Le Bon lives in Los Angeles now, though the sunshine has yet to worm its way too far into her music. It's there, but it only serves to accent the shadows. 
Suede - Bloodsports
 That Suede released an album at all in 2013 was cause for celebration. They'd been touring again for a couple of years, and they likely could have carried on that way playing their deep, lush back catalogue. Instead they dropped their first full-length in 11 years, a collection abundant in their dramatic Brit-Pop sounds, epic choruses and chiming guitars. The album sags a bit here and there, but is a triumph as a whole. And having seen them at the Garage in London this past October, I can confirm that the new stuff blends in seamlessly with the old stuff. 
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
 I get the impression that the longer Vampire Weekend sticks around, the less cool it is to like them. Lucky for me I don't give a shit about that, because "Diane Young" is silly and ridiculous and irresistible. One of the things I enjoy most about them is that they seem totally shocked by how successful they've become, and they're making the most of it all. It helps that their music still explores the fringes of sounds from other parts of the world and filters them through a decidedly Ivy League perspective. Something about that just works for me. 
Foals - Holy Fire
 Foals grow more confident with each new album, and Holy Fire may yet be their best work, complicated indie anthems without sounding complicated. Holy Fire is probably the most natural approximation of their math-rock roots with a strong songwriting focus, and as a result it all sounds like they're having a good time. I can definitely get on board with that. 
Charles Bradley - Victim of Love
Charles Bradley's success is undoubtedly heartwarming, but it wouldn't mean nearly as much if he and his Extraordinaires weren't so fucking good. On stage, Bradley is dynamic and emotional, and that all comes through beautifully on his second full-length, Victim of Love. One could argue, I suppose, that Bradley's retro sound is out of step with contemporary R&B, to which I would reply, "Thank fuck for that." I'm a big champion of Daptone, and Bradley is one of the many reasons why. 
Matt Berry - Kill the Wolf
 By now I'm past the shock of "This is Matt Berry? That Matt Berry?!?!? As in Douglas Reynholm from the IT Crowd? No fucking way!" I felt when I heard 2009's WitchazelKill the Wolf is another stunning album of weird pastoral pop tunes and psych-folk. I'd have put this on my much shorter list of albums which surprised me this year, but I love it too much for that. 
Elvis Costello and the Roots - Wise Up Ghost
It's possible I enjoy this as much as I do because I went into it really wanting to. That the pairing seemed so odd to some people doesn't hurt, either. I think it works, and I do like quite a bit of it. It's also a bit duller than it should be every now and again, but as with the Suede album, when it's good it's so good the shortcomings are forgivable. 
One half of Ghost & Goblin is a friend of mine, Nicholas DiMichele. Ordinarily that sort of thing makes it tough to integrate music into my regular rotation, so I consider it significant that I love this album as much as I do. It's a bit Black Moth Super Rainbow, a bit Gorillaz, but with considerably more drama. Nick is also an actor, and while I already knew he did voice work for Pokemon ("some guy off the street" is how he was described by some Pokemon devotee on a forum I just read, though moments later he's given mad props, so hooray!), I did not know that he was in an episode of 30 Rock until I looked at his resume this morning. Still not enough to get me to watch 30 Rock, but good for you, Nick. The album is great, and maybe we'll make good on our threats to jam together one day.  
Everything Everything - Arc
The music of Everything Everything is twitchy and jerky and lovely, and it's sometimes difficult to get comfortable when listening to it, and then suddenly it's not uncomfortable at all, as on "Armourland," when Jonathan Higgs croons about wanting to take you home. It's New Jack Math Rock or something, and I quite like it. 
The Pastels - Slow Summit
There's a hopelessly twee part of me, and thank goodness the legendary Pastels returned in 2013 to scratch that itch. 
Jagwar Ma - Howlin'
Effectively blends the future and past in an irresistible, psychedelic dance-friendly package. I think they're cut from the same cloth as Ghost & Goblin, which as I mentioned above is my kinda music. I dithered around and missed a chance to see them at Glasslands, but I still have the album to keep me happy. 
Fuzz - Fuzz / Sunderberry Dream
My favorite project in 2013 by the ridiculously prolific Ty Segall was the aptly-named Fuzz, a sludgy, grungy, glorious throwback on which Segall plays drums. When I listen to Fuzz and the "Sunderberry Dream" single, I want to play it loudly enough that I sustain permanent hearing damage. I want to wear flannel and drink cheap beer and yell a lot. I don't, though, because I live in an apartment. 
Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Rock & Roll sin't noise pollution, and few prove that maxim to be more true than Queens of the Stone Age. I had the great pleasure of hearing Josh Homme and the gang tear through much of this album, plus some golden oldies, earlier this year at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. Man, oh, man. My favorite track off this killer album is "I Sat By the Ocean." 

Albums I Liked More Than I thought I Would

Beady Eye - BE
I'm an Oasis fan from way, way back, but the post-Oasis output from both Gallagher brothers hasn't been much to get excited about. And as MOR dull as Noel's High Fying Birds album was, the Beady Eye debut was actively bad, with just a couple of songs worth revisiting. Which is why BE is such a surprise. Adventurous without going over the edge, with songs that are more than just re-written Beatles numbers, BE is genuinely good stuff. Much of the credit should go to TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek's production style, though the band should also receive praise for overcoming their stodgy ways to allow new influences to permeate the air. "Second Bite of the Apple" is probably my favorite track, though there's very little I don't care for. Well done, fellows. 
Sky Ferreira - Night Time, My Time
I really didn't want to like this album, what with Ferreira being so insufferable (she and her equally insufferable boyfriend were arrested on a drugs charge just a few days before my wedding in the same small New York town), and the creepy stalker porn cover photo by Gaspar Noé. So I was a little surprised I genuinely liked quite a bit of the record. I'm not sure it'll stick with me, but it will have been fun while it lasted. 
David Bowie - The Next Day 
I still think a lot of this is pretty dull, though the songs that are good are surprisingly so. People seemed so shocked by his return that no one seemed to care that Bowie hadn't released a good album in three decades before this one. Compared to his work from the mid-'80s onward, The Next Day really is fantastic. But it's still not as great as I wanted it to be. 
Primal Scream - More Light
I love Primal Scream, but their past few albums have been pretty middling, inessential stuff.More Light's lead single, "2013," didn't inspire a lot of hope as it sounded like they'd taken all their past works and put it in a blender. And then I listened to the rest of the album and was pleased to find it was their best work since XTRMNTR. Losing Mani back to the Stone Roses could have been Bobby Gillespie's group's death knell, but instead it seemed to back him into a corner with something to prove. 

My Favorite Reissues of the Year

Beachwood Sparks - Desert Skies
I was swept up in a wave of Cosmic American Music delight when I first heard Beachwood Sparks' eponymous debut for Sub Pop way back in the day, a wave I've been surfing ever since. I unabashedly love the music of this band, and 2012's The Tarnished Gold - the group's first full length in eleven years - was well worth the wait. But the history of Beachwood Sparks extended further back than I realized, as various early singles and other "Preflyte" tunes began circulating. This year, Beachwood Sparks' bass guitarist Brent Rademaker helped compile and polish up the band's lost debut recordings, including different versions of some of those earlier songs, on Desert Skies, a veritable treasure trove that showed the fledgling band in confident, psychedelic form. Everything I love about Beachwood Sparks was in the group's early DNA, with perhaps an even greater sense of urgency. It's a lost chapter that enhances the group's later output without taking anything away from it. Given it's chock full o' unreleased material it's odd to call it a reissue. But no matter where I'm meant to categorize Desert Skies, it's still some of my favorite music of the year.
The Breeders - Last Splash LSXX
I always preferred the first couple Breeders albums to the last couple Pixies albums, and while I was already into them based on the terrific PodLast Splash and its associated singles and EP's - collected here - were absolutely essential. It's fantastic to hear the album alongside all those other great songs, which is how I was listening to them via all-Breeders mixtapes back then. 
The Clash - Sound System / The Clash Hits Back
The Clash are one of my all-time favorite groups, and the Sound System box set is an awesome tribute to their collected works (even as they again try to rewrite history by pretending Cut the Crap never happened), not only because of all the extra tracks, but the remastering of the studio albums as well. Mick Jones is a genius. Also great is the compilation, The Clash Hits Back, which approximates the setlist of what must have been a killer show, adding a handful of other essential tracks as well. It serves as a worthy hits collection, and I'm pretty stoked to have it in its triple-red-vinyl format in my record collection.
Sly & the Family Stone - Higher
Box sets are often a mixed bag, with compilers making different choices than you might make were you handling it on your own. In the case of Higher, the tracklist works nicely, setting course on a logical, funky chronology. A couple of the albums - There's a Riot Goin' On, for example - are well worth having in their entirety, but this is a solid compilation for people who want more than just a single-disc hits collection, but don't necessarily want to be completists. 
The Monkees - The Monkees Present
Rhino's stellar deluxe album reissue series continued in 2013 with this 3-disc edition of the Monkees' second album of 1969, the last to feature Michael Nesmith for decades. Originally envisioned as a double album with each of the three remaining members (Tork left in late 1968) having a dedicated side of wax, with the fourth a full group effort. That never came to pass, but the album upon release did include particularly strong material from Nesmith and Micky Dolenz. Expanded to include demos, alternate takes and other material, The Monkees Present is the final word on the last time the band released new music that didn't make me cringe.
The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat
I love this album, but I rarely tab it as my favorite by the Velvet Underground. And yet it's quite possibly the perfect encapsulation of all the different elements that made the group so vital. The deluxe CD version comes with Live at the Gymnasium, and it sounds much crisper than all the bootlegs I've heard of the same show. The vinyl release includes some pretty stellar bonus material on a second record, as well. 

Artists I Ordinarily Enjoy Who Released Albums In 2013 I've Mostly Forgotten About

Arctic Monkeys 
Franz Ferdinand
Los Campesinos!
The Black Angels
The Strokes

(Maybe I'll revisit these one of these days and try again...)

My Favorite Musical Moments of 2013

Coachella (Weekend One) - April 12-14, Empire Polo Club, Indio, CA
I wrote about this at length in a previous Facebook note, but this was probably my favorite year so far. Amazing sets (topped predictably by Blur) and good times with my wife (she was still my fiancee then!) and some incredible people. It'll be hard to beat. 
The Charlatans and Friends' Tribute to Jon Brookes - October 13, Royal Albert Hall, London
A moving tribute and some incredible music in one of the world's great venues.
Suede - October 16, The Garage, London
The timing of our honeymoon was perfect, putting us in London not only for the Charlatans, but also Suede's small club gig in advance of their British tour. The room was unbearably hot, but the band was brilliant. 
The Stone Roses - Made of Stone
This documentary wasn't a warts and all expose, but rather a tribute to what makes people love the Stone Roses as much as they do. After their deflating Coachella performance, that's what I was looking for, and that's exactly what I got. I still play the debut album at least once a week, and hearing the four members of the group's only lineup that matters play those songs again - on massive stages and tiny rehearsal spaces - was thrilling.
The New York Rock & Roll Explorer Signs With MTV Books
Yeah, this was a pretty fucking big deal for me. Go figure. 

My Least Favorite Music of 2013

Kanye West - Yeezus
I didn't dislike Yeezus because I'm so repelled by Kanye's personality; I've almost always felt that way about him, but I love quite a bit of his prior work. No, I dislike Yeezus on its own merits. It's noise, and not the good kind of noise. I'm glad everyone loves it as much as they do, but man, I think it's just an awful racket. 
Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Look, everyone I know: If James Murphy can't get me into Arcade Fire, it ain't gonna happen. 
TV Mania - Bored With Prozac and the Internet?
Unlike Beachwood Sparks, digging through the archives was not worth the efforts for Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes and bald 9/11-truther Warren Cuccurullo. The Devils (Rhodes and Stephen Duffy) was much, much more interesting. This just sounded like pointless noodling. 
The Flaming Lips (and Friends) - The Time Has Come To Shoot You Down…What A Sound
I was pretty stoked when I read that Wayne Coyne and a bunch of other psychedelic pals were recording a full cover of the Stone Roses' debut. The results, I was disappointed to hear, were a awful. It's the sound of overindulged stoners drinking bottle after bottle of codeine-heavy cough syrup and playing video games. One or two tracks are nearly alright, but man this sucks. 
Broadcast - Berberian Sound Studio
I loved Broadcast like a giddy fanboy, and I was devastated by the sudden death of Trish Keenan in 2011. I'd hoped the soundtrack the group was working on prior to Keenan's passing would revisit some of what made them so eerily fascinating. It did, but only intermittently. This is more of a disappointment than anything.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Return of Sir Lucious Left Foot: Big Boi on World Domination

Originally published by PopMatters on January 4, 2013

Let’s clear something up: Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, the provocatively titled new record by Big Boi should not be read as an attack on his partner in OutKast, André 3000.

It’s important to make that distinction because, as Big Boi noted during a telephone interview, this is his album and his alone. But more on OutKast in a minute, because for the first time, Big Boi is truly stepping out without his mercurial compadre, and the results are nothing if not dynamic.
“We’re just out here campaigning, shaking hands and kissing babies, you feel?” says Big Boi at the beginning of the conversation. The Atlanta-based raconteur has been all over the place, on chat shows both day and night, on the radio and the blogosphere, and on Instagram, because Big Boi is nothing if not current. He’s transmitting messages across the Twittersphere as often as most people blink. Big Boi is taking it to the people because that’s how it’s done.

“It’s just about bringing awareness to it,” he says. “You want as many people to hear it as possible. A certain amount of songs, I leak just to give people a taste of the record. And the response has been very, very, very good, you know? I’m just thankful and blessed to be able to still be here doing what I love to do and have people still receive it the way they have been.”

Born Antwan André Patton, Big Boi spent much of his childhood in Savannah, Georgia before moving to Atlanta during high school. It was there that he met André Benjamin, the pair eventually morphing a love of hip-hop and performance into OutKast, innovators of sound and vision. On the surface, André 3000 was the eccentric sonic wanderer, Big Boi the urban purist. The truth, as Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors clearly proves, is a lot less simple to pin down.

Technically, the new album is Big Boi’s second solo release, following 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. But in September 2003, OutKast released a critically acclaimed double-album, each half showcasing the talents and sometimes disparate interests of the duo. Big Boi’s half, Speakerboxxx, included the single “The Way You Move,” a #1 radio hit featuring a guest appearance by Sleepy Brown. But both Speakerboxxx and André 3000’s showcase The Love Belowfeatured numerous performance and production crossovers between the pair. Sir Lucious… also included a track, “You Ain’t No DJ (featuring Yelawolf)” produced by André 3000.

So, really, if you want to be a stickler about it, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors is the first Big Boi record without any André 3000 at all. Which is why it’s understandable that Big Boi mostly wants to talk about the album and not his relationship with André 3000, what’s happening with OutKast, and all that extraneous stuff. But since Big Boi is shaking hands and kissing babies and André 3000 has been keeping a relatively lower public profile, he’s having to deal with those questions anyway. And he’s kind of tired of it.

“It’s funny, me and Dre talk on the phone about this all the time,” says Big Boi. “We’re not going to keep explaining things; you know what I’m saying? This is my record, and my man wants me to shine on my own like I’m shining, you understand what I’m saying? It’s a Big Boi project, and he had nothing to do with this project at all. He produced a record on the last project and we did a song for it that didn’t make it. But it’s my time to shine right now.”

It’s been more than six years since Idlewild, the soundtrack to the group’s film of the same name and the last official full-length release under the OutKast umbrella. Though some reports in the media speak of artistic and personal differences having driven a wedge between the longtime friends and musical partners, Big Boi claims that isn’t the case.

“It’s not tense at all, man,” he says. “We talk, and we hang out, but it’s not for the world to know. We’ve been at the hip joined together since the 10th grade. Goddamn, can we get a break? That’s all it is, but people don’t know us. They don’t know that he comes to my house and my kids and his kids play together and play video games and stuff like that.”

The absence is still there, though. Not on the new album, where Big Boi has deftly intertwined guest appearances by luminaries across the vast spectrum of music. André 3000’s absence is more pronounced in a live setting, when Big Boi performs OutKast songs without the familiar sound of his partner’s distinctive drawl in the mix. Such was the case last month at SOB’s, a small live music venue in New York City’s SoHo, which has seen some of hip-hop’s biggest stars grace the stage with special performances. According to Big Boi, the last time he was on that stage was with OutKast in celebration of the group’s 2000 album, Stankonia. This time around, it’s Big Boi’s show.

“I have a full band complete with a horn section,” says Big Boi. “Being that I have a catalog that spans 20 years, the show is like a piece of every era of music that I’ve ever done. To fit all of that stuff into an hour-and-a-half, an hour-and-45 minutes is fairly easy. Nothing is missing at all.”

Indeed, Big Boi’s set included songs from the earliest days of OutKast, complete with video accompaniment; André 3000 was there on screen, and perhaps in spirit, if not in person.

There were also guest appearances at SOB’s, including Phantogram and A$AP Rocky, both of whom appear on the new album. That sort of thing is likely to happen for the duration of the tour in support of the record, with different guest stars popping up from time to time.

“When you’re in cities certain artists are in, they’ll come out and rock with you,” Big Boi says. “That makes the show special, too.”

Little Dragon, who also play on the album, performed with Big Boi on Late Night with Jimmy Fallonone night earlier. A few days after, Kelly Rowland turned up in support of the record’s lead single, “Mama Told Me,” on The ViewVicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors also features guest appearances by T.I., Ludacris, Killer Mike, Wavves, B.o.B., Kid Cudi, and more. It’s a collective spirit Big Boi equates to European radio, which he says is often much looser in format than the airwaves in America.

“I guess overseas they really appreciate music more than we do here in the States,” he says. “On their radio stations over there, it’s not the same five songs played over and over and over. They might go from a hip-hop record to a rock record to a country record to a techno record. Their radio stations play all genres of music all day long. It’s much more diversified.”

That’s not to say that same iPod shuffle scenarios isn’t seen in the United States, but Big Boi posits it’s not as prevalent on the radio as it is at music festivals. 

“Here, you have the whole hipster crowd, the indie rock crowd,” Big Boi says. “The festivals are the same. Like, your Bonnaroos and your Camp Biscos, and things like that where they come out, you know what I’m saying? Even though the music is not being played on the radio, these people don’t listen to the radio, you know what I’m saying. Over here they rebel against the radio, which is good. I know my audience, and my audience is a wide array of all walks of life, all ages, and that’s the good thing about it, for sure.”

Though the details are still being sorted out, Big Boi says a massive tour is likely, with festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza a possibility along the way.

“The bookings have been coming in for a minute now,” he says. “I’m going to probably do a House of Blues run first, then come back and do theaters. And then I’ll probably do festivals for the rest of the year. I toured 18 months off my last record. I’m just really having fun, man. Touring is really one of the best parts of making music, because you get to see the fans’ reaction to the songs that you created and you’ve just been wondering the whole time how they’re going to receive it.”

A full-scale world tour is also likely, especially as the Big Boi experience has been rapturously received across the globe.

“Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, the whole shebang-a-boom,” Big Boi says, adding that the craziest crowd he saw while touring Sir Lucious… was in Europe.

“It might have been the Netherlands,” he says. “It was ridiculous over there. I think it was the Roskilde Festival. Bananas, know what I’m saying?”

The festival circuit is where Big Boi’s relationship with Phantogram, an indie-electronic outfit from upstate New York, was cemented. He first came across their music on the internet.

“Phantogram, I like to say the music is organically created, never genetically modified,” says Big Boi. “How I discovered Phantogram, I was on my computer, and you know how they have pop-up videos when you’re closing screens out? And ‘Mouthful of Diamonds’ came on, on the screen and I Shazamed it, and after I Shazamed it I put it as my jam of the week on After I did that, Sarah (Barthel) from Phantogram contacted me and was like, ‘I appreciate it, we love your music, we need to do something,’ and she sent me some autographed vinyl to [OutKast’s Atlanta studio] Stankonia. We actually did a couple of festivals together, Outside Lands in San Francisco being one of them. From there, I invited them down to Stankonia. They came for a week and camped out and we made a lot of good music, man. That’s why you see they’re on the album more than one time; that’s like a week’s worth of recording. We done a ton of music.”

Big Boi says Phantogram is currently in the process of recording their second full-length album at Stankonia.

“They’re trying to get some of them vibes,” he says.

Little Dragon also found their way onto Big Boi’s new record in a similarly organic way.

“I was at Dre’s house a while back and we was sitting around talking and listening to music, and he was playing me some of the new stuff that he was into, and he was playing me some Little Dragon, some MGMT, and some old George Benson,” Big Boi says. “And my godbrother, Trevor Kane, was actually doing some work with some of the guys from Little Dragon, and he kind of hooked us up. I invited them down for a week and we did a ton of music, a shitload of music then. I have a gang of songs from Little Dragon as well that is not on the album. It’s kind of in the vault.”

That collaborative approach is a hip-hop tradition, one which thanks to artists like Big Boi is continuing to expand into musical genres not often associated with hip-hop.

“It’s really about trying to put down your ideas when you’re really in the groove of things,” he says. “When you’re in a group with somebody you kind of feed off each other. But being that, you know, I don’t want to hear a whole album of just my own voice. I just kind of sprinkle different artists in as ingredients to just kind of jam out with. I love feeding off other people’s energy, and it works. As long as the music is jamming, I’m open to it. It’s always about the search for that new sound, that new groove. This is how you keep music going. The art form, period. The craft of making the coldest shit on the planet. This is what I do, this is what I was put here to do, and I’m just getting started.”

To that end, Big Boi began work with indie rockers Modest Mouse on new material over a year ago. The sessions have yet to pick up again, though Big Boi says he’s ready to roll.

“I’m waiting on Isaac [Brock, Modest Mouse’s primary instigator],” Big Boi says. “They’ve still got to get some stuff together internally. We did like three songs with them, and I can’t wait for them to come out. They’re jamming like a motherfucker, too. I think the people are really going to love it. So, you know, as soon as they handle whatever they’re handling internally, I’m sure the people will get it. But the stuff sounds incredible.”

In the meantime, Big Boi has just one artist at the top of his list of dream collaborators.

“Kate Bush is the only person I want to work with right now,” he says. “Kate Bush, hopefully when I get to London. I spoke to her a couple of times on the phone and sent her a few tracks. She was digging them, so you know, we want to sit down and have a cup of tea and catch up, and hopefully something can come from that.”

How any material which came from that collaboration might surface is unclear, but it’s worth noting that Big Boi, while just beginning promo for Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, is already 10 tracks deep into his next record.

“It’s almost like stringing a pearl necklace together,” he says. “I just work on songs, and when you carve out certain records, they make a certain kind of sound together.  I might have recorded maybe 40 records for this album and just took 17 of them and put them together to make this one sound. They’ll see the light of day, though. They’re in the vault, and as long as people keep supporting me, I’ll keep giving it to them.”

It’s all about keeping busy, no matter where he is. And technology being what it is today, an artist like Big Boi can indulge his desire to constantly create at any given moment.

“I’m keeping my foot on the neck of the whole music game,” he says. “When I’m on tour, I’ll be writing this next record. I’m in the beat selection process of it now. It’s shaping up pretty nicely. I’ll probably have a studio on the bus, and any tools I need, a beat machine, I’ll just take it on the bus with me. As long as you’re in the groove, man, you got to keep it going.”

SOB’s has a listed capacity of around 400, and at times a great percentage of that total is on a small stage against a wall in the middle of the room. Big Boi’s live band is electrifying, and after Phantogram are introduced to perform on slinky versions of “Objectum Sexuality” and “CPU,” Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky steps into the mix for “Lines.” It’s as close an approximation as one might imagine a studio session would be, and Big Boi is clearly enjoying it. Clad in camouflage fatigues, Big Boi is as comfortable running through OutKast classics like “Rosa Parks” and “Player’s Ball” as he is with every inch of his new material. He’s a performer and band leader, and he seems both adept and happy with the dual roles.

The show begins with a painter reproducing the vivid artwork adorning the cover of Vicious Lies and Dangerous Truths, and video screens bring the colorful imagery of Big Boi’s entire recorded career to life over the course of the performance. In Big Boi’s world, it’s important to merge visual art with music in a symbiotic fashion.

“As an artist, to me, I want everything to look like how the music sounds,” he says. “For the visuals to be dynamic and off the wall, I want it to look surreal. It’s not the typical stand in front of a car rapping, or holding bottles of champagne and throwing money. It’s got to look like the music, and the music is all about emotion. The ‘Mama Told Me’ video is fun like the song. The colors, how the video pops makes you feel a certain way. I’m hypnotizing the public. I’m digging it, man.”

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Record Collection Reduced to a Mixtape

In the basement event space at WORD last night, I read a chapter from A Record Collection Reduced to a Mixtape, my work-in-progress novel about a music nerd with a busted heart. This has been a difficult week in NYC, and I wasn't sure we'd get anyone out for LOCAL ORGANIC: New Works by the Greenpoint Writers Group, a reading which was the culmination of a 12-week intensive with eight writers sharing their stuff with one another, providing feedback and becoming better for it. WORD was packed. We were grateful. Eve, my fiancee, shot video of my reading, and because the sound wasn't terribly good, I figured I ought to just put the chapter I read here in case anyone wanted to try and read along. 
A Record Collection Reduced to a Mixtape tells the story of Sam, a playwright recently back in New York and staying with his parents after a tough breakup. Some of the novel goes as far back as his college days at UCLA and the time he spent living in Los Angeles in the years which followed. In this chapter, he's back in New York, trying to get over Renee, and is considering looking for love on the internet.  

The Bees – “I Really Need Love”
Vivian Girls – “Second Date”
Peter Doherty – “New Love Grows on Trees”
I filled out an online dating profile. I don’t know why I did it, because I guess I did alright when I actively tried to hit on women, and even when I've had a long dry spell I didn't much care. But my friend Diego said it was working for him, and why shouldn't I get in on the action?

I checked it out, mostly so I could find something wrong with it so I wouldn't have to create a profile. But it turns out Diego was right. My objections were primarily based on the television commercials where the blandest motherfuckers on the planet seemed perfectly happy now that a website found their bland ideal. I've come across countless bland chicks already, and I’m sure plenty of women have found me to be pretty vanilla too. So I figured, why pay for disappointment and awkwardness when I get that shit for free?

“Dude, this is different,” Diego said. “It’s like it was made by a bunch of indie-rock bloggers. It’s called OK Cupid.”

Immediately my hackles were raised. To say I have a complicated relationship with Radiohead would be a vast understatement. It would also be wildly inaccurate, of course, because there is no relationship. The crown princes of dour indie obviously don’t know me at all, and as I’m unlikely to visit any sullen hyperbaric chambers masquerading as beep-boop-blip recording studios, it’ll probably remain that way. On my end, I sometimes enjoy the music of Radiohead, but there’s always the din of fawning praise drowning everything else out. So what then to think of a dating website named after OK Computer, Radiohead’s 1997 alt-prog-wank opus?

“That sounds fucking terrible, man. Seriously.”

“It’s free.”

So I gave it a shot. And much to my great disappointment, I actually kind of liked the feel of it. I looked around, and there were plenty of cool women with cool jobs and cool haircuts and cool ideas. I set up a profile and began browsing.

New York, NY

“Music is the weapon of the future” – Fela Kuti
I am: Funk, punk and crunk

(left blank)

Identifying the best orange in even the largest of grocery store bins.

My shoes and my awesomeness

Books - Catcher in the Rye, Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung, Up in the Old Hotel, Please Kill Me, Miss Lonelyhearts/Day of the Locust, London Fields, Money, The Adventures of Augie March
Movies - Annie Hall, Do the Right Thing, On the Waterfront, The Third Man, My Life as a Dog, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Touch of Evil, The World of Henry Orient, Dig!, A Hard Days Night, Double Indemnity, L.A. Confidential, Chinatown, Arsenic and Old Lace, Star Wars, Philadelphia Story, Midnight Cowboy, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Rushmore, Manhattan, Strangers on a Train, West Side Story, A Shot in the Dark
Music – Six songs completely at random on my iPod…
Ty Segall – “Fuzzy Cat”
Black Moth Super Rainbow – “Zodiac Girls”
Tronics – “TV on in Bed”
Belle & Sebastian – “It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career”
Field Music - “A House is Not a Home”
Jurassic 5 – “Quality Control”
Food – I enjoy food, especially Indian, Japanese…Really, anything you like, I’m probably gonna like.

I’m taking the question to mean material things rather than ideas or emotions. Mostly I just want to be incredibly shallow.
iPod (though it is falling apart)
iPad (though it is falling apart)
iPhone (it won’t fall apart until my AppleCare expires)
Signed vinyl copies of Plastic Beach; Blank Generation; 3 Feet High and Rising; and Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space
Dogeared copy of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung
Uniball Micro pens and Moleskine notebooks (because it looks cooler than entering shit into my iPhone)

(left blank)

(left blank)

(left blank)






(left blank)

Agnosticism, but not too serious about it

Gemini, but it doesn't matter

Graduated from college/university


Rather not say

Doesn’t want children

Likes dogs and dislikes cats

English, fluently
French, poorly

Girls who like guys
Ages 21-35
Near me
New friends, Short-term dating, Long-term dating, Long-distance penpals, Activity partners, Casual sex

(left blank)

I loaded up a few choice pictures – the one where I’m coveting the “butcher” cover of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today behind the counter at the Amoeba Records on Haight in San Francisco; a black & white shot of me standing in front of the Brill Building in Manhattan; a pretentious shot of me standing in front of a far more erudite friend’s bookshelves while wearing my God Bless Brian Wilson t-shirt – and put the fucker live.

It’s a dating profile, so naturally I fudged it just a bit. I wasn't actually in New York City, but I was certainly willing to jump on a commuter train if it meant I might meet someone. Besides, I didn't want my face to show up if anyone did a search of the area where my parents lived.

I wasn’t “fit” either, though I figured I might actually get there now that I was home with fuck all to do with my time.

I spent the first hour or so answering questions about politics and how I’d handle myself in bullshit situations, like if I turned a corner and found a stack of hundred dollar bills, what would I do? I’d fucking take it, but even though I knew full well anyone would do the same, there were four options, and I figured I’d take the sensitive route and pretend I’d donate it to charity instead of blowing it all on vinyl.

I trolled profiles for the next 30 minutes, ranking women based on their looks and anything else I was able to scan in roughly three seconds, and I felt a little shitty and shallow and I kept on doing it anyway. I saw red flags everywhere, and I saw Renee everywhere too, or rather the absence of her, because no one on there was Renee.

I was fumbling around, having a little fun but not really allowing myself to take the next step and say hello to anyone. And that’s when I realized I was already under the microscope. It’s not like I thought I wouldn't be looked up and down and judged like everyone else, but maybe I didn't think it would happen so soon. I found the “visitors” link in a drop-down menu on my homepage and saw every woman who’d looked at my profile. And even though I’d only been signed up for maybe two hours, there were like 40 of them.

By the next morning, I had seven messages in my profile inbox. Two informed me that women I’d ranked either 4 or 5 stars had done the same for me. One was from someone called “ToxyRoxy” who’d added me to her favorites list, making me instantly suspicious of her motives, even though she claimed to be bisexual, which I thought was pretty great. Another three were a mixed bag, and after reading their messages and profiles I determined them to be somewhere between irritating and borderline psychotic. Using this random sampling, I’ll leave you to determine which end of the spectrum I put them on.

Slybootz11222: OMG you like Tame Impala too no way I love them are you going to show at MHOW? Wanna buy me a drink? LOL

GlitterFreezes: …I have three cats and they’re named Mittens, Mittens II and Mittens IV. Please don’t ask about Mittens III when we meet…

BarrenToTheBone: …so I got out of the car, made sure no one was around, and dropped the bag of dogshit into his mailbox…

The seventh message was from a woman called SignedBC, a play on a song by Love, the seminal ‘60s Los Angeles group which only gained fame years after half of them were dead or in prison and the other half in and out of rehab: Street cred forever guaranteed.

Our conversation began with promise…

SignedBC: …My apartment is small, though it’s my own fault for being a completest record collector. I’ve got an entire shelf dedicated to post-Big Band, pre-fusion jazz, for crying out loud…

Stereoblab: …I’ve got more Impulse-era Coltrane than almost anyone except the Beatles…

SignedBC: As well you might.

Predictably, we quickly moved to more intimate realms…

SignedBC: Top Five Best Make-Out Albums Not Featuring Marvin Gaye…Go!

Stereoblab: What song was playing when you lost your virginity?

SignedBC: Have you ever gotten off at a live show? Which band was it?

There was something pure and beautiful and appealingly weird about our conversation, and we weren't in a hurry to spoil it by moving it into a different medium. Logging in to OK Cupid, I’d see that I had messages, and if it was from someone other than her I’d ignore it completely, and if it was from her I’d read it at least half a dozen times, trying to convince myself she was for real. We didn't talk on the telephone, and even though it would have been easy enough to arrange, we didn't try to meet in person. I didn't even know her name.

SignedBC: What are your Desert Island Discs?

Stereoblab: Have you ever worn a concert t-shirt so long it fell apart?

SignedBC: I know he’s pushing 70 and collects knives, but I totally have the dirtiest fantasies about Keith Richards.

…but before long, cracks began to show…

SignedBC: I think Coldplay are pretty underrated.

Signed BC: Black people just smell different than the rest of us.

Stereoblab: …

SignedBC: I have three cats and they’re named…

For the next week messages continued to trickle in, and I became more discouraged every time I clicked one open. They weren't all crazy or boring or lousy with cats. Some of them were sexy, smart and sarcastic. They were just the wrong sexy, smart and sarcastic. I didn't even know what I was looking for, but that didn't stop me from trying, either. I’d scroll through the recent visitors to my profile, click over to check them out and enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of knowing they would know that I’d checked them out. But it didn't last. None of it lasted. I was chum in the water, and I didn't know what to think of that. I thought about deleting my profile before it got out of hand, and that’s when I heard from Ingrid.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Today's Supernatural: PopMatters Interviews Animal Collective

Originally published by PopMatters on September 6, 2012

They’re supposed to be difficult, as impenetrable and stubborn as the music they’ve created together or separately or whatever. It turns out not to be true, of course; the four guys who make up Animal Collective are normal dudes. Immensely talented, urbane and intellectually complicated dudes, but still. Panda Bear recognizes the logo of the former Las Vegas minor league baseball team on the cap I’m wearing because he’s seen it in a video game.

In the tiny living room of a sweltering second-floor walkup on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, three members of Animal Collective – Noah Lennox, Brian Weitz and Josh Dibb - sit elbow to elbow on a small sofa, with the fourth – Dave Portner - on the other side of a coffee table perched on a chair. It’s early summer and they’re flipping through stacks of photographs. The intimacy of the room, the attention to detail, it all matters when talking about the Animal Collective story in 2012. But more on that in a minute.
Like a psilocybin Super Friends, the members of Animal Collective are known the world over by aliases: Panda Bear (Lennox), Geologist (Weitz), Deakin (Dibb) and Avey Tare (Portner), though since they referred to one another by their real names, that’s how it’s going to work here, too. But before I do, I just want to say how disappointed I was to find that there’s no Animal Collective name generator on the internet. Remember how much momentary fun it was to get your Wu-Tang name? Donald Glover certainly does. So get on that, random hipsters.

Animal Collective have long been critical touchstones, a recording history stretching back to the turn of the 21st century with a series of densely assembled releases with sounds buried deep in the mix and sudden harmonies and, fuck, is that some lost Beach Boys track I’m listening to? Such is how many music journalists, perhaps robbed of the ability to think straight after deep contemplation of songs like “Peacebone” or “Grass,” have described Animal Collective, and maybe there’s a kernel of truth there: The perceived obsessive attention to minute detail; deceptively simple melodies and rushes of sheer vocal beauty; a sandbox in the living room? But to constantly reference the Beach Boys is missing the point, and it’s also lazy, and while Animal Collective seems wary of tags, there are far worse things to be compared to.

“It has to be flattering,” said Weitz.

“Definitely not irritating,” added Lennox. 

“With the Beach Boys thing, from Sung Tongs on it’s been a band we’ve been associated with or a reference point,” said Portner. “And I think when it got down to making Strawberry Jam and people said, ‘Oh, it’s a Beach Boys thing again,’ and we were like, did you even listen to the record? I don’t get that in that at all. When it becomes this lightning rod to make people understand something, we’re not annoyed but we just don’t get it.”

There are degrees of perplexity with the reference, too.

“You can tell when it’s a product of lazy journalism,” said Weitz. “You can usually tell from the publication, like if we’re not the kind of band they usually cover, it’s like, ‘Did you really listen or did you get that from a Google search?’”

In early 2009, Animal Collective released Merriweather Post Pavilion, the album which made them as close to household names as they’re likely to ever get. The group’s most electronic-and-sample-based album, it was for many also its most approachable. Singles like “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes” were all over college and internet radio stations, comparatively sparse and unabashedly lovely. The album was perhaps the year’s most critically-acclaimed, living up to the advance hype and somehow managing to transcend the buzz. It gained the group legions of new fans, which was something of a blessing and, if not a curse exactly then perhaps a new puzzle to solve.

“Dave and I were just in France doing some DJing, and the guy who promotes our French shows came out,” said Weitz. “And he was like, ‘Your last show in Paris, a reviewer was talking about how you’d only played two songs from your first album,’ and we were like, what do you mean our first album, and they meant Merriweather.”

The mistake almost feels unforgivable in the digital age, where a group’s entire history is merely a keystroke away. With Animal Collective, there’s not just a long history of complex musical exploration on record, but also on the stage. And as any fan of any band knows, some people want to hear their favorite songs exactly as they know them from the record. To paraphrase an apocryphal Beach Boys tale, when Brian Wilson abandoned the band’s girls/surf/cars themes in favor of comparably deeper intellectualism when creating Pet Sounds, the famously cantankerous Mike Love reportedly said, “Don’t fuck with the formula.” And if there’s one thing Animal Collective enjoys, it’s fucking with the formula.

“One comment I heard, or was talked about after we actually played at Merriweather Post Pavilion(in 2011), is even though it was three years after the record came out was how can these guys tour a record and not play and of the songs off that record” said Portner. “We weren’t touring the record, and for us it’s interesting to know that there are people that haven’t clued into that fact, because I feel like it’s pretty widely known.”

It is widely known, so much so that the group received a curious warning prior to playing the Maryland venue which bore the album’s name.

“Even the promoter sent our booking agent a semi-threatening e-mail saying he heard we weren’t going to play a lot of songs from Merriweather, and we’d better behave like professionals and play the songs people were coming to hear as we recorded it,” Lennox said.

And, let’s face it, that’s not something anyone should expect from Animal Collective. A festival set at Coachella last year was one such example, with countless people taking to the Twittersphere to call the set a disaster and just as many calling it a triumph.

“It’s intense to play Coachella or a venue that large where there’s people for all different reasons coming to see you,” said Portner. “And for us, we feel like we’re throwing enough old stuff in there people will respond to, but we rework songs to the point where people don’t even recognize them. It can be scary, especially at this point where, in environments like Coachella where you’re playing for 30,000 people or even at Merriweather where we played for 8,000 people.”

“It’s highlighted at festivals, because presumably you have a lot of people who are like, ‘I’ve heard of that band, let’s see what they’re about,’ and you don’t have that crush of people who say, ‘I know this song, it’s my jam,’” said Lennox. “You have tons of people who say, ‘I’ve never heard this before.’”

“There are some fans who are like that, who would only be satisfied if you played ‘My Girls,’ ‘Fireworks,’ ‘Banshee Beat,’ ‘Brother Sport,’ ‘Summertime Clothes,’” said Dibb. “If they heard that set, they’d be psyched, and otherwise they’re like, ‘What the fuck?’”

It’s enough to make even the famously adventurous Animal Collective admit to the odd bouts of second-guessing themselves, but only a bit.

“It affects me more in club shows,” said Portner. “To me, these are people who are Animal Collective fans, and to see someone with that bored kind of, ‘What are they doing?’ kind of look. That’s the most disheartening thing. The thing is, you can’t be like…if you’re going to get into a wormhole where you start thinking about that stuff it’s going to be no fun. And there are definitely some nights where I’m like, ‘Why do I do this anymore?’ Usually more because I didn’t think we sounded that good. But it’s too easy to get wrapped up into thinking, ‘Is this person enjoying it?’ ‘Is that person enjoying it?’ And the reality of it is, like at Coachella, there’s going to be 30 percent people there that hate it. Not everybody is there to see Animal Collective, and it’s cool to think we can turn people on to something different and we can have this new way of doing it, but there are also people there that just want the typical festival band who just goes out there and plays the hits. But I think that’s why festivals are cool, too. They’re supposed to offer this wide array of music, and it’s exciting as a fan of music.”

Dibb sees a clear connection between Animal Collective live and Animal Collective on record.

“I think that also goes in line with the way we release records, and it’s ultimately what’s exciting to me,” he said. “Releasing a record like Merriweather and then releasing a record like this (Centipede Hz, the group’s new album out this week). Or going back to Feels or Sung Tongs. They’re all different. There are always going to be people just into one of those sounds and that’s all they’re going to want to hear, and then there are people who are like, ‘I’m really into all these different angles of what you guys can be,’ and I feel the same about the live experience. I want it to be unifying so all the people there can connect to it, but there’s also a part of me that wants the music to be challenging, in the same way that I expect people coming into this who were introduced to us through Merriweather and it’s the only experience they had: You’re either going to be up for this being something new, or you’re going to listen hoping to hear more of theMerriweather sound.”

The success of Merriweather Post Pavilion gave the group some new pressure, though not externally. The album, recorded in Oxford, Mississippi during Dibb’s hiatus from the band, wasn’t just a critical and commercial smash: It was also a high water mark for Weitz, Lennox and Portner.

“Noah has used the golf analogy of trying to beat your personal best,” said Weitz. “For the three of us, Merriweather was really special, and having that feeling like when we finished it and feeling we’d made something we were really, really proud of. I know what that feeling is, so now I know more when I’m settling or compromising myself. But I don’t think commercially, it’s too difficult to anticipate what anybody wants.”

Dibb rejoined Animal Collective in 2010, heralding something of a return to their roots, as the group headed back to Baltimore to write and record in a room together for the first time in…well, a long time. “I would say it was integral to the way the songs turned out,” said Lennox.

“We always throw some words around to get the inspiration, and we had some melodies going in,” said Portner. “Josh, Noah and I had written between the three of us five songs when we went in with the idea that we would keep jamming and write as we went. The three months there was kind of like a workshop and we also had time to work individually and produce stuff as we were writing.”

Though the move was deliberate, the group said it wasn’t because they felt a particular need to tap into what made Animal Collective so special all those years ago.

“I don’t think we ever lost that,” said Weitz. “I don’t think this was so much about needing to recapture something, so, ‘Let’s go back to Baltimore.’”

Instead, it was more about wanting to take a different approach, one which was less about technology and more about the immediacy of smashing the shit out of one’s instruments.

“It was a bit reactionary maybe to the sort of sample-based nature of Merriweather,” said Weitz.

“That manner of interacting with music and performing music, we felt like we had taken that with Merriweather where we wanted to. We needed a change, and with that change we needed to bring energy back into playing music as just a contrast. And the four of us playing live together with this instrumentation seemed like it would accomplish that. Baltimore was chosen more as a convenience than an attempt to recapture something, because I don’t feel like we’d really lost all that much.”
The members of Animal Collective grew up in and around Baltimore, playing music together in various incarnations. But it wasn’t until after high school that the group began to come together as we know them now. Lennox and Dibb headed to Boston for college, while Portner and Weitz went to school in New York City. After working long distance and traveling back to Baltimore to record for a few years, the group turned New York into their home base in 2000, with Portner and Lennox working in one of the city’s still-surviving independent record stores, Other Music. It gave them a chance to both fulfill and destroy their dreams.

“My big goal as a musician was the have a barcode and a really official-looking package,” Lennox laughed.

“I always wanted to find my music in a section of a store I’d usually shop in,” said Weitz. “And at first you’re just in ‘Miscellaneous A.’”

“The first record Noah and I worked on (Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished), that getting a write-up in Time Out and it was featured in Other (Music), it was like, ‘Alright, that’s it!’”

But getting what you want isn’t always a blessing.

“Actually, working in a record store made me hate music for a long time,” Portner said. “Having access to everything all the time, I was like, ‘I can’t even decide what I like anymore.’”

Initial reports of the music on Centipede HZ were often based on live performances of the songs played around the world last year, though as we’ve already established, with Animal Collective that doesn’t exactly give on much to go on. It was believed that the album would be a severe and unapproachable departure from Merriweather Post Pavilion, though that’s proved not to be the case. As PopMatters’ Arnold Pan pointed out in his album review (8-out-of-10), “Centipede Hz is an album that’ll get a hold on you as all its arms grab on and don’t let go.”

“I think there’s something very inherently Animal Collective about it,” said Lennox of the new album. “Compared to Merriweather, there’s a lot more going on and a lot more to navigate. But I don’t think that makes it a difficult record, because some of my favorite records have been like that and you hear more with repeated listens.”
Dibb agreed.

“I think Merriweather was one, and some of our other records have been like this, that it’s an instant thing,” he said. “At least that was my experience listening to it as a fan, that it immediately struck a chord and took off. Not that it wasn’t challenging, but it didn’t take a lot of work to get there. And I don’t think this is an instant record. You have to think about this for a second and take it in.”

It’s worth noting that the group released music between Merriweather Post Pavilion and Centipede HzODDSAC, an experimental visual album collaboration with filmmaker Danny Perez which took four years from inception to completion, was released in early 2010. And a few months prior to the release of Centipede Hz, the group released a double-sided single with “Honeycomb” and “Gotham” an admitted red herring they acknowledged would probably make some fans incorrectly feel like they knew how the album was going to sound.

“Those songs didn’t really fit on the record, and we thought they’d be a good introduction to the band stuff,” said Weitz.

Visuals are also an important part of the Animal Collective experience, from their stage show to ODDSAC. While all four members of the group have had a hand in how their record sleeves are designed, Portner is the most connected to that, often working with his sister, Abby Portner, an artist and musician, to create the final product.

“It’s varied from record to record,” Portner said. “For Merriweather when we were on the way to one of the studios we found that optical illusion and we were all like, ‘Oh, wow.’ For (Centipede Hz) it was more like collecting and we were all involved. Sometimes I have this idea in my mind and ask my sister Abby. Something else I might do on my own or we might all contribute something.”

Asked whether he felt as though any particular Animal Collective record sleeve had visually captured the sound of the music, Portner said it wasn’t that easy to define.

“People react to that kind of thing so differently and it’s so specific to the experience of listening to music,” he said. “With Strawberry Jam there are lots of people who think it’s just disgusting, but for me, it’s a really pretty colorful way of presenting something, and you start to realize the more you do something…Like ODDSAC, which I think is the perfect combination of music and visuals that people are just not always going to get what you’re trying to push out there. But I think there’s something to be said for a really sweet record cover. I really like the cover to Feels a lot, that’s one of my favorites, but I wouldn’t necessarily think that you can listen to the music and stare at the cover and think, ‘That’s perfect.’”

“The cover is just an added flavor to the music,” Lennox said. “It doesn’t affect how the music sounds.”

Animal Collective begin a three-week North American tour later this month, with European dates to follow. They’ll make stops in New York and London, two cities they admit to being among the most difficult to play.

“With cities like London or New York, on any given night there might be four great shows and the people in the audience go to music all the time,” said Dibb. “If you play places that are a little more afield, there’s pure appreciation of the experience of having us show up that can be really gratifying. There’s less pressure in this weird way. In Zagreb, Croatia people are just psyched. We played Moscow for the first time and people were psyched. Those are places where it’s special for bands like us to come through.”

Portner admitted that it’s not always easy to know from the stage whether they’re playing a good show or not, and they don’t always agree with the crowd.

“There are some rooms that are great to play in and some that are tough,” said Portner. “But then I met this guy last night who found out I was in Animal Collective, and he was like, ‘Man, remember that one warehouse show and I DJ’d after you guys,’ and I thought, ‘That show was a nightmare,’ and he said he thought it was amazing. We played this show in New York where I basically just stopped because the bass frequencies were too intense, and for me it ruined the show, but for a lot of people they were like, ‘You guys were playing great.’”

Television provides its own difficulties for a group accustomed to experimentation, and much more so than in festivals the studio is not filled with partisan fans.

“I think the audience in those TV studios is completely irrelevant,” said Weitz. “The times we’ve played shows like that we’ve never even looked at the audience. They’re told with an applause sign to clap. I think more about what it’s going to translate into on the other side of the TV.”

“It’s the furthest away, especially in the live situation, of what we would do, take one song and play it,” said Portner. “Based on our history of how we feed off of live energy is to get this thing going and going and going, and then you’re put into that situation and it’s like, ‘Okay, guys: 4 ½ minutes. Do it!’”

The regimented time slot of a TV appearance isn’t the only hurdle for the group in using the medium.

“It’s difficult for us because they ask what we’ve got that’s four minutes long, and it’s not much,” said Weitz. “And we give them this one or this one, and they’re like, ‘You can’t play that.’”

In 2009, the group played “Summertime Clothes” on Late Show with David Letterman, a clear reminder that Animal Collective exists on the periphery of the entertainment industry.

“Paul Schaffer was really nice to us and acted like he listens and cared,” said Portner. “And David Letterman just made fun of our record cover.”

Things were even worse two years earlier when the group made its national television debut on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, where they remember switching gears at the last minute and performing “#1.”

“Conan O’Brien we’d heard was a really big music fan, and I’m friendly with the guys in Yeasayer, I’ve known them for forever,” said Weitz. “And they said, ‘He was really psyched to have us on the show, he loved our record.’ And I was like, ‘Really? He talked to us about how the Amtrak went through Baltimore, and that was it.’ We changed the song at the last minute, and I think he got word of it and was pretty bummed.”

Dibb remembered almost no direct communication from the lanky host following their performance.

“He actually didn’t say anything to us at all, but after we played he walked through and as he was shaking my hand, he said to the camera, ‘Baltimore, huh? I went through there on Amtrak once,’” Dibb recalled. “Cool. Nice to meet you.”

The sense of relative alienation doesn’t just apply to the world of television; they also feel it within the music industry. Collaboration outside of the group dynamic isn’t a natural fit for Animal Collective.

“There are certain people, especially in New York, where we’re not part of this fraternity who gets the stamp of approval from, like, David Bowie or David Byrne,” said Weitz. “We don’t make records with those people, but everybody else seems to. Not that we don’t like those people. For us it just doesn’t feel like our thing. Like with Arcade Fire backing up Bruce Springsteen just feels like it would be so far off from anything we’d do. And not even just those people, because I remember when Damo Suzuki was on tour, and in every city he said he wanted a different backing band. And for me, I just couldn’t imagine us sitting around the practice space and saying, ‘Damo Suzuki wants a backing band: Let’s do it!’ I just can’t see us making that decision.”

For a group so closely associated with dense sonic experimentation, they’re also acutely aware that not every journey is a good fit for them.

“There’s many different ways you can mix certain songs, and you can take a song like ‘Also Frightened’ and make a crazy mix out of it, and then you sit back and think, ‘Are people going to be into this? Am I even into this?’” said Portner.

“And it’s the same thing with an instrument, too. There have been times where it’s been like, let’s try that and then we realize it’s just not right for us.”

Weitz picked up the thread.

“Pedal steel is a good example,” he said. “I love pedal steel, and before we made the record I thought it would be great to have a pedal steel, because I lived in Arizona for a while and fell in love with that sound, and there’s this record, Chill Out by the KLF, and I wanted to incorporate that into this record. But the notes played in a lot of those country songs might not work with what we’re doing. So we thought maybe about having it played live and we invited Dave Scher who plays in a lot of bands and plays lap steel. And a lot of his stuff stayed on the record, but sometimes when it was too far up in the mix it was just like, ‘That doesn’t sound like Animal Collective.’ The closest thing it sounds like is maybe Wowie Zowie by Pavement or something, but it just takes you out of our world.”

While the musical world of Animal Collective is always evolving, so too are the personal lives of its members. They live in different cities living different lives; two of them, Weitz and Lennox are fathers. For Weitz, the latter in particular represents a big change.

“My work ethic I think is a bit stronger,” he said about fatherhood. “I feel like I can push past exhaustion more. Being a musician can sometimes be a cushiony lifestyle, and I have to think, ‘You know, for the next two weeks I’m not just going to smoke pot.’ And I think that’s necessary – not smoking pot, per se, but recharging – and the idea of sort of having someone to observe your work ethic a bit more, there’s just no excuse for laziness.”

“’I’ve got three hours to sit around and smoke pot and listen to records…Go!’” joked Dibb.

“The writing session we did was probably the most exhausted I’ve ever seen these guys,” added Portner.

But it’s a good change, not just personally but in what it brings to the music, both in its sound and its creation.

“I used to work on Capitol Hill and you don’t get a lot of sleep but you’re psyched,” Weitz said. “I loved my job there, and you’re happy to almost be exhausted. Work is your life, and that’s what this record is like. And the idea that there’s a child observing that, you should love what you do and put your all into it.”