The New Decay

for those who love myusik

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Typically, when writing music, one is tempted to look at all the pre-desposed types of music and find one in which they mostly neatly fit in. Whereas the more profound approach is to call into question those very distinctions. With their split album, Angels of Light and Akron/Family do just this. Recorded and mixed in nine eight-hour days after an inspiring North American tour, the two groups give us an album that is Americana and yet not Americana, that is Southern Rock and yet not Southern Rock, that is free-form and yet not free-form. In short, an album that signifies a break with the constant cycle of neatly located music.

The album begins with seven songs from Brooklyn based band Akron/Family. Having recorded a disturbing, yet triumphant debut album earlier this year, Akron/Family take all the experimental textures of their debut in even more unpredictable directions. Listening to Akron/Family is like listening to your grandparents telling you a story from when they were young. You never really know where they are going next.

Akron/Family’s set opens with the gently textured “Awake.” Layers of vocal harmony swell overtop a gently arpeggiated guitar, reminiscent of the darker moments of later Beatles material. Just as you’re about to get the sense that you know what Akron/Family is trying to get at, in comes the second song “Moment” with its big wall of sound. This is no longer a calm and collected album, but instead a dialectic between the tranquil sounds of neatly placed harmonies with the utterly unsettling sounds of dissonant guitars, piercing electronics, and collective yelling. At no point can you say that one has won over the other, Akron/Family are far too clever to allow that to happen. Rather what is created with these songs is a constant conflict that is never resolved.

The paradigmatic instance of this would be with Akron/Family’s last song “Raise the Spark.” Chalked full of stylistic changes, this song can be seen as the culmination of all of Akron/Family’s prior work. The song starts off with a captivating southern rock jam session that would make Duane Allman and Dickey Betts jealous, but is quickly interrupted by a Animal Collective-esque yeah-yeah section, which is far more reminiscent of the avante-garde than anything southern rock. This doesn’t last long as the song then transforms into an all-out Gospel chant with the entire band screaming “Raise the Spark” with such enthusiasm that you are left with little choice but to respond with a big ‘AMEN’. The song then ends cycling back to the southern rock section, yet it is now much more unsure of itself having passed through the rest of the song, almost negating it entirely. Thus, Akron/Family’s section leaves us, in many ways, more confused about who Akron/Family actually is than we were when we first started the album.

This would be enough by itself, but we have five Angels of Light songs to go. If the Akron/Family section of the album displays a young band trying to establish itself, by not establishing itself, the Angels of Light section, although still coherent with the Akron/Family material, offers something different. Here, instead, we have an already established artist trying to explode much of what they have already accomplished. The result is very captivating.

With his five songs, Michael Gira (head Angel, long-time Swan) presents some of his most interesting material to date. He leaves behind the reserved songwriting of his other 2005 album The Angels of Light Sing Other People, and instead invites Akron/Family in, with exciting results. Whether it’s the quiet “Mother/Father” or the haunting “The Provider”, working alongside Akron/Family rejuvenates Gira, allowing him to explore elements of his songs in ways that he has not done in quite some time.

If there is a negative aspect of the album, however, it comes with the transition between the two groups. The Angels of Light section begins by covering the Dylan song “I Pity the Poor Immigrant”, in an attempt to relate back to Akron/Family’s “Dylan Pt. 2”. While being an excellent song on its own, in the context of the rest of the album, the song is far too predictable to be relied upon as a turning point in the album. Instead it sticks out like Paris Hilton at a peace rally. Fortunately Angels of Light are able to respond with four other exceptional tracks that are on par with Akron/Family’s set.

With this album, both groups refrain from merely giving us bonus material. Instead they offer an essential collection of songs that have a dramatic impact on both careers. It displays a young band establishing itself in a wonderfully negating kind of way, while at the same time portraying an already recognized artist who is still able to evolve.

Monday, November 07, 2005


I know this album came out few weeks ago, so in many ways I've already missed the bus on this one. It's just that I needed to let this one escape the honeymoon period before I could allow myself to say anything about the album. The fact of the matter is that I don't really know what to make of Feels, not because of the album itself, but more because of people's reactions to it. It is one of the most beautiful albums I've heard in a while. But is it, as everyone is saying, signifying a change in the Animal Collective's work, going more (as it is most commonly refered to) 'accessible'? Every reviewer of this album seems to want to place the significance of Feels in the fact that the Animal Collective have decided to exist, to quote Pitchfork 'in relationship to music history, and not just any music history, but rock.' My question is then, is it really possible for any band, including the Animal Collective, to fully exist 'inside' or 'outside' of music history?

Such a reading of Feels tends to result from a misunderstanding of the significance of the Animal Collectives work prior to Feels. Many place the Animal Collective within the larger musical movement typically refered to as 'outsider music,' refering to musicians who have decided to place themselves outside the confines of any previously prescribed musical forms. They thus exist 'outside' of what is most commonly refered to as popular music. The Animal Collective tend to be placed within this group (along with the likes of Devendra Banhart, Wesley Willis and Black Dice, among others) because of their very unpredictable musical output thus far. Whether it's the mysterious electronics of Spirits They're Gone, Spirits They're Vanished, or the piercing sounds of Here Comes the Indian or the so-called freak folk of SungTongs and Prospect Hummor, it has been very difficult to place the Animal Collective within any previously understood type of music.

Feels differs from these albums in that it is more placeable. It contains more songs that can appeal to a wider audience and that can be named, usually as indie or pop. The band goes with a more 'traditional' band format (guitars, bass drumbs) and writes some all out pop songs in 'Did You See the Words,' 'Grass' and 'The Purple Bottle.' Thus all the Seth Cohens and Connor O'bersts of our world are all giddy over Feels because The Animal Collective have finally recorded something they can understand. They have made their first indie rock album and can now be played alongside all the likes of Guided By Voices, Death Cab's and Interpol's.

Such an understanding of Feels fails to take seriously enough what the Animal Collective have done and continue to do with Feels. What is important with the Animal Collective is not their movement from outside to within. What's important is how they were able to reform pop music by, in a sense, rupturing it. Music does not flow by any movements captured by the terms 'outer' and 'inner.' Such terms presume that there are realms of music that musicians generally seek to either fit inside or outside of, be it indie-rock, pop music or hi-hop. As music is in a state of constant revolution, in constant flux, these terms are at all times being torn apart. The Animal Collective do just this with their albums, including Feels.

For example Feels represents another disturbance in the music narrative as it disrupts the notion of a 'song.' Avey Tare, as he has done in much of his previous work as well, starts and then throws away more song ideas in one song than many artists are able to come up with in an entire album. As Betty Clarke from The Guardian states, what we have with Feels is not a collection of whole songs but rather 'a mosaic made up of pieces of a broken mirror.' Feels is another offerring from the Animal Collective of a series of fragmented and open ended songs.

Take 'The Purple Bottle' for example. The song starts with hyper-active guitars strumming over one chord with a sparadic drum beat underneath and Avey Tare's over-exuberant singing on top of it all. Just as the song is about to culminate in all that it has been working towards we are interrupted by a quiet section that sounds dangerously close to Stevie Wonder's 'I Just Called to Say I Love You'. Then the song ends back in all the hyper-activity with Avey Tare screaming and hollering over everything else.

Same goes for 'The Banshee Beat' (possibly the Animal Collective's most stunning piece of work). The song starts off very murky with drones and the quite whisper of Avey Tare's voice. Eventually the song begins to build and you start to get the feeling you know where everything is going. Then all of a sudden Avey Tare lands a beautiful and powerful 'Ah-oooooo' that you would never have been able to predict. He does this a few times and you begin to think he'll carry out the rest of the song doing this. Enter the Futureheadsesque oh-oh harmonies that once again throw you for a loop and the song eventually fades out leaving you disturbed but still very pleased.

Forget all this talk about the Animal Collective going all soft on us, going all accessible and sissy. Feels is yet another example of the Animal Collective's stunning ability to render and create songs that are constantly negating themselves. These are not placeable songs, whether 'inside' or 'outside' of indie rock. I'm sorry all you indie-kids, you may have thought you won one more over. The Animal Collective are not that easily fooled