Predicting Animal Collective's Future
There was this really silly comment left on Patrick Foster's Camper Van Beethoven review a couple weeks ago (yes, this post has been sitting in an unfinished state for a while) that said (sic): "come on man, who cares about a bands place in history?"
For real? Not a fan of context? Isn't that part of the fun of being an obsessive music fan? Are we supposed to let baseball writers have all the fun with their Jim Rice debates? (Little Anthony:Jim Rice. The Stooges:Tim Raines.) In fact, I think it's fun not just to debate a band's place in history, but to debate that before it's even history.
In his review of the yes-it's-really-that-good (in-fact-it's-even-better) Animal Collective album, "Merriweather Post Pavilion," Chris Richards writes about how the band is moving toward a mainstream that no longer exists. And he's right; we live in an era of microgenres and easy access to everything.
If you want to listen to exclusively tape-hiss drenched, bluesy garage rock, you can do that. But that doesn't mean bands don't get popular. "Merriweather" entered the big Billboard chart at No. 13 and the band's May 11 show at the 9:30 club sold out before it officially went on sale.
So how high into the stratosphere will Animal Collective go? (Metaphorically, that is.) Let's look at some possible comparisons.
Chris was trying to tell me that Animal Collective is already at Sonic Youth's level, and he might be right. "Strawberry Jam" and "Merriweather Post Pavilion" may very well be Animal Collective's "Sister"/"Daydream Nation," truly awesome albums that secure the band enough cred to last a career and paving the way for a long and gradual mainstream breakthrough. Sonic Youth headlined Lollapalooza but was never a platinum-superstars act because its stuff was just a little too off-center. The same could be said for Animal Collective. While nobody will ever match Sonic Youth's Godfathers of Cool shtick, it's easy to see Animal Collective growing into a role like that, where all the young, new, weird bands look up to them. Sonic Youth is also involved in countless side projects, just like the AC boys. In 2007, both Avey Tare and Panda Bear released solo albums, in addition to the band's own "Strawberry Jam."
You can make similar discographical arguments with Flaming Lips, but they don't really stand up to scrutiny. And the one-off success of "She Don't Use Jelly" makes the Lips a tough match. But both bands seem to be securing that one segment of fans that takes the band to another level: hippies. And if they're not quite hippies, then they're fans with the same devotion as hippies. Hippies are the most reliable fans. They never turn on anything. Once a hippie likes you, chances are a hippie will always like you. That was the genius of Bonnaroo, starting it out as a hippie festival, getting them hooked during those first few years and then expanding outwards, knowing they'd have that completely dependable base. Anyway, Animal Collective inspires the same devotion. Nobody who got into Animal Collective over the past few years is going to stop liking them anytime soon.
The shift in musical mood is also a key similarity between Animal Collective and Flaming Lips. Both bands were legitimately bizarre during their earliest years. But eventually that weirdness transformed into hyper-positive, love-is-a-wonderful-thing hippie jams. The Flaming Lips went from "Jesus Shootin' Heroin" to "Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face?" Whereas Animal Collective went from "Meow, kitties!" to "I want to walk around with you, just you!"
The way "Merriweather Post Pavilion" was cobbled together on the Internet by obsessive fans through live recordings, plus the fake reviews and breathless search for leaks was reminiscent of pre-release Radiohead hype. It's not every band that gets that sort of attention. As with the most serious worshippers at the Temple of Yorke and Greenwood, you don't want to mess with Animal Collective fans. Because they will mess with you back. They got nothing but time, believe me. This Idolator post gives you a glimpse into that kind of disturbing world. For a band to get really big, it needs to have that crazed base. But will Animal Collective ever reach a point where selling out 20,000-seat venues is a given? Unlikely. The songs just don't seem universal enough. Then again, Radiohead started to get hugely popular when its songs became weirder.
Other comparisons? Sick of reading about Animal Collective yet? If so, 2009 is going to be a long year for you.
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