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June 4, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – # 7 – Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective is special.

And weird.

And maybe psychedelic.

Or maybe folk, like avant-garde folk, sort of like experimental art music, sometimes it sounds like rock, often times you can dance to it, the vocals almost always remind me of The Beach Boys, the song structures and the lyrics, however, do not.

It is a “collective” (not a band, really), because they are not always ALL together.  They like to have other projects, creative outlets, the freedom to play and experiment without one another, and the freedom to come and go as they please.  Over the past decade, the collective, in whole or in part, including solo stuff, has released over 13 albums.

Each of the collective has an alias:

Sometimes they wear masks and pretend they are animals, or other things.

Each is from Maryland (Merriweather Post Pavilion – the album name, see above – is also a famed music venue located in the woods between Baltimore and DC – I think Hendrix and Janis Joplin played there once).

Each knew the other as kids, transplanted separately to NYC and formed the collective in 2000-ish in a loft on Prince Street (a few blocks from my place, b/t/w).

Not ALL live in New York any more, only 2.

Each is now in their 30’s.

The collective is a deep part and a major influencer of a very vibrant, US-based alternative (rock/folk) music scene, much of which is housed in NYC, and Brooklyn in particular (primary neighborhoods:  Williamsburg, Ft. Greene, Red Hook, D.U.M.B.O.).  This scene features tons of bands/collectives, many growing in popularity, slow and steady.  If you are young and you are NOT into hip-hop, classic rock or American Idol-esque pop, this might be your scene.  You also might be a hipster.

It is often hard to tell what instruments the collective plays.  I know there are bass and drum sounds.  My friend Jason thinks they play computers.  I think they do, sometimes, sometimes I know I hear guitars though.  To me, their signature sound is in the vocals, they are gorgeous, and most of the time they are not computers.

Up and to the release of Merriweather it was a challenge for me to recommend the collective.  Its greatness was not obvious, and for some it still may not be obvious, in the same way Kid A can baffle even the most sincere music fan.  Nonetheless, I think it’s time.  It’s music for the patient, the hungry, the anti-pop, those with ears craving something new.  It’s also damn catchy and beautiful.

The lyrical themes of Merriweather center around love, loss and family, which I don’t think is weird at all, and doesn’t feel very hipster, does it?

Here’s my introduction to the band and the record, a tune called My Girls.

 .

There isn’t much that I feel I need
A solid soul and the blood I bleed
With a little girl, and by my spouse
I only want a proper house

I don’t care for fancy things
Or to take part in the vicious race
But to provide for mine who ask
I will, with heart, on my father’s grave

I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things
Like our social stats
I just want four walls and adobe slats for my girls

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May 28, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – #6 – Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker – 2000

 Heartbreaker                                                                                  

“Up here in the city [it] feels like things are closing in
The sunset ‘s just my light bulb burning out
I miss KENTUCKY and I miss my family
All the sweetest winds they blow across the south

Oh my sweet Carolina
What compels me to go
Oh my sweet disposition
May you one day carry me home”

In my most recent post in this series I talked about Beck’s Sea Change, a break-up record felt at first listen, a super-sad extravaganza that came as a wonderful surprise, especially considering its source.  I was used to Beck being great musically, ironic lyrically, and weird generally, but rarely authentically sad.

Ryan Adams, on the other hand, is always sad about something, usually girls, break-up records being his forte.  Where does all of this sadness come from?  Have you ever spent any time in a small southern town like Ryan’s hometown of Jacksonville, North Carolina?  These are places where sadness reins, a fundamental part of the environment, hanging there inside the thick, hot, humid air.  These are also places drenched with quiet, where the slightest sounds feel amplified, an approaching car moving along a gravel road (Lucinda), the crickets and the bullfrogs calling from the trees in the dark, a lone acoustic guitar from off in the distance, cutting its way through the last rays of sunset.

This sad, slow, sparse feel of the rural south is the mood that is beautifully captured on Heartbreaker, with the primary tools of southern folk music, acoustic guitar and trampled-on voice.  The opening track, a misleading, fun-sounding, Elvis-like romp announces the subject, To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High), and stands along with the fight-riddled Shakedown on 9th Street (I was just gonna hit him but I’m gonna kill him now) as the two up tempo rockers on the album.  As terriffic as these two tunes are, the heart of the set sits in the sparse, country folk of songs like My Winding Wheel, Oh My Sweet Carolina, In My Time of Need and the underground hit of sacraficial-heartbreak-to-the-max, Come Pick Me Up.

This album stands up nicely against classics like Neil Young’s Harvest and Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and it is on my list primarily because it I listen to it so much.  It’s permanently in my car, and I break it out regularly for long drives.  Adams followed it up with the almost as good, but maybe a little bit too long, Gold in 2001, beginning an incredibly prolific decade constituting 10 full-length studio releases.  I own and listen to them all, but Heartbreaker remains my favorite, an excellent starting point for anyone interested in Adams and folk-country-rock music at its best.

Notable(s):

My favorite track on the album is Oh My Sweet Carolina, a harmonious love song featuring Emmylou Harris on backing vocals.  Here’s a really super sad version of the song with just Ryan and his acoustic guitar.

During my Miles High Artists days I got the chance to spend some time with Ryan.  He is very close friends with Jesse Malin and produced Jesse’s 2003 release The Fine Art of Self Destruction, which is a great record in and of itself.  Ryan plays guitar on the record and other releases by Jesse including The Heat and Glitter in the Gutter.

Ryan’s band, Whiskeytown, was a peer to and competitor with Uncle Tupelo (Jeff Tweedy’s band prior to Wilco) and there exists and underlying rivalry between Ryan and Jeff for tops in the Alt-Country genre.  My favorite Whiskeytown album is Strangers Almanac (1997), with standout tracks Inn Town and Everything I Do.

Ryan’s solo discography from this past decade is massive, averaging about 1 release per year, and spanning a number of genres, including an all out rock album (titled Rock ‘n Roll).  Recently he has been sharing the bill with his touring band the Cardinals.  The double disc set Cold Roses, by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, shows off Ryan’s Jerry Garcia-esque guitar chops and Grateful Dead song writting influences, affects that have been working their way into the longer, generally terrific jams featured in his live shows.

Next we move away from the songwriters for a while and back to the bands, including couple of hipster transplants to the now very active alternative music scene in Brooklyn (and New York City)…

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