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Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

12/01/09

To put none too fine a point on it, I don’t like it. There’s your “review”.

Not as if that matters, because the mob has spoken; every music critic in the land has formed an orderly queue before it so they can take it in turns to fill it full of fawning superlative jizz, like the queen bee of a hive during mating season. Pitchfork embarrassed themselves yet again with a review so achingly pretentious they had to put it on a slant so you could still read it while you’re looking perpetually down your nose at everything, Drowned In Sound naturally followed suit, even the Sun loved it.

The problem with all this is how naturally repellant “the hype machine” is. Every few months an album comes out that you absolutely have to hear, otherwise you must retreat to your uncultured hovel so we may paint a cross on your door, lest the enlightened among us accidentally come into contact with the musical leper down the road. Sometimes they’re right – Broken Social Scene’s self-titled was rightly lauded, as was Bon Iver’s debut, if you ask me – but the signal-to-noise ratio is so unbelievably top-heavy it’s a wonder it hasn’t crushed us all like grapes under a steamroller. MGMT, Vampire Weekend, The Tallest Man On Earth, Friendly Fires, Fucked Up, and Christ knows what else, all given lavish praise that – in my always humble opinion – was largely undeserved. A few decent singles, perhaps a decent album from The Tallest Man On Earth, but none of it was essential, not to me.

The problem is, the sheer amount of hyperbole makes it virtually impossible to take anything these places say at face value – I dread to think how many times I’ve read an album that would “definitely be album of the year” only for it to fall from favour in a matter of weeks. And plus, what authority do these people really have? It certainly sounds impressive – Pitchfork Media, Drowned In Sound, Captain Cooldude’s Snobbery Blog etc. etc. – but in the end, just because these people are paid peanuts (if anything) to “hold forth on their rubbish opinions” (as Phil Korbel so deftly put it), they really are just people lucky or arrogant enough to have a platform for their opinions. Just because they seem to have now synchronized their tastes so the review sites are largely indistinguishable, doesn’t mean that their opinions are worth a damn thing.

And who’s advice carries weight for you? Theirs? Or a friend’s, who knows what sort of music you actually like and isn’t being paid by record companies to recommend records to you? Of course, nowadays, there’s a third opinion you can consult, and that’s your own. Virtually everything is try before you buy (if you buy at all) now. And if anybody tells you anything and presents it as an absolute cast-iron fact, the most likely outcome is that you’ll move away from it a little as you question and query it – I avoided Broken Social Scene, a band I now love, simply because everyone was telling me I had to listen to them. They were right that time, and for that I give them every credit, but it was far and away the exception to the rule. Because most of it I really didn’t need in my life.

I’m not hot on Animal Collective. But then again, it’s a wonder I even listened to it at all – because the hype machine may get the reviewers hot under the collar, but to me, it is doing its victims a disservice. Nothing puts me off like a chorus of ravenous applause from people whose opinions mean precisely nothing to me, who have recommended me little but rubbish in a good few years. There comes a time when you simply tune them out.

But anyway, do listen to Animal Collective for yourself. If anything, just to see what the fuss is about.

John Tucker

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