Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

TUNES RECOVERY PROJECT: Animal Collective – My Girls

Not for the first time, I really, really wish we had Mike Powell writing for us…


Anthony Easton: I do not know how to read Animal Collective.

Alfred Soto: Spanning electro, scenes of kids playing with sparklers and boogers, and a Beach Boy or two, this puts their golly-gee sense of wonder in a place just out of reach of rot, which is its fate on a parent album that can stand some adult supervision.

Rodney J. Greene: “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things/ Like a social status.” First of all, social status isn’t a material thing, like a house. There’s nothing wrong with having aspirations, but to come from a position of privilege and be all “Social status? Who? Moi?” even as you go to good colleges, make good money doing cultural work, and buy property in the suburbs pisses me off. There’s probably no good reason why I find your privilege-in-denial so angering while Vampire Weekend’s privilege-on-sleeve amuses, but, you know, a sense of humor about such things and not sounding like utter fucking garbage can get you a long way. I find your lack of self-awareness even more nauseating than your physically discomfitting mass of treble.

Jonathan Bradley: Forget socialism in the White House: The real place that scourge has infected is the lyrics of hyped-up indie rock bands — sorry, “collectives.” Someone inform a tea partier! There’s no real way to defend lyrics as awful as “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things, like a social status,” even if you do agree with the sentiment. The real utopianism here is in the starry-eyed synthesizer supernova; a sparkling array of blips that cohere into a lush, dreamy whole. Add to that rattling subterranean bass thumps, the kind more appropriate for a club than an adobe village, and all the hippie bullshit in the world can’t prevent this from being a joyous and celebratory party-starter. Now, can someone call T-Pain to do the remix?

Michaelangelo Matos: The thing that always turned me off about these guys is how insular they came across, and that’s true as well of their pop move (you know, their real one, not the Ween-sounding shit their claque swore up and down was “pop” around 2004). Only here the insularity is social rather than musical. When they swear to disavow material things, it induces class-based irritation of a very special kind; hearing them aurally high-five one another as they set off the next round of loops does not help matters.

Martin Kavka: One of the (few) things that Animal Collective do well is tap into a feeling of detached bliss by affecting a variety of different moods. This is perhaps their most perfect song, but their ethos of willed detachment (“experimental”!!) strikes me as music for people who are afraid of others and therefore want to create their own private gated universe. You know, like hipsters. Or right-wing Republicans.

Kat Stevens: Even a right old bloody mess like this can be saved by one strong melody repeated over and over again.

Ian Mathers: Hey look! Indie stars can prove that a fantastic chorus makes up for incredibly dumb lyrics just as easily as pop stars do! The twinkling abeyance of the first, oh, ninety seconds winds up being kind of worth it once the refrain and subsequent chorus (and, crucially, the fucking beat) finally kick in. But for god’s sake, the chorus proper doesn’t even show up until three minutes in, and the song doesn’t achieve full power until there’s only a minute left.

Chuck Eddy: Well, it has a pulse, and I suppose I mean that in both the literal and figurative senses. Though I’m not really sure if the singers have one. Basically, I find this rather likeable — in a relaxing minimalist repetition sense, I guess — whenever they shut up. And whenever they start back to burbling, my blood starts back to boiling.

Iain Mew: This song mostly makes me think of my girlfriend’s two-month old niece who started crying as soon as it came on the radio. That and Ian’s excellent point about its lyrics last time we did it. Oooh, and I just noticed — the synths are near enough the same as “Break Your Heart”, aren’t they? All of which is to say that while I can admire the skill behind the dense collage of sounds here, it leaves me far too cold to take more than a theoretical interest.

Alex Macpherson: I’ve been irked by a fair few artists this year, but usually the reason is an obnoxious persona working in tandem with bad music. With Animal Collective, it’s just the sonics. Like most of what I’ve heard by them, “My Girls” is a seasickness-inducing mess. Flattened-out production which makes the song sound like it’s trying to breathe through clingfilm; the rudimentary electronic bibble which refuses to go anywhere or develop into anything and just keeps hanging there, like a broken car alarm whose owners have gone on holiday; the one-note synthpad passing, badly, for a bassline, which sounds like a baby is crawling over a keyboard. These elements appear to have been laid over each other entirely at random, and as “My Girls” fumbles ineptly along, even more clutter is added, but EVEN THAT is not the worst thing about the song because the worst thing is Noah Lennox’s fucking abomination of a voice. It makes me livid that anyone has the temerity to inflict that pitchless, lifeless, smug blare on to the world, let alone under the guise of art, let alone exacerbate its horror by oscillating back and forth over and over and fucking over again, never once even nearing the concept of singing in key. Luckily for this intolerable band, their actual words are buried somewhat, but looking them up, they appear to be infantile hippie bullshit. This is literally the worst thing I have ever heard, it makes me want to commit acts of violence on those responsible and as far as I’m concerned anyone encouraging them or expressing positive sentiments towards them rescinds their right to be taken seriously on the subject of music ever again.

Tal Rosenberg: If you take the mushy lyrics about domesticity and family out of the picture, and just keep the melody and the music intact, this is a damn good song. The handclaps that enter halfway; the swooning chant (WHOO!) just after the first refrain, before the handclaps come in again, louder and more dramatically; the little twinkling synth that hovers over a cloud of fog. Combine all these elements together and you have a band taking their avant-pop and giving it a plethora of vision and scope, something avant-pop rarely does, preferring to reside in small spaces. That’s all these guys want. But the image is so much more.

Anthony Miccio: Post-rave Beach Boys psychedelia, with its modest novelty bolstered by a gen-yoo-wine hook. Whoop-de-freakin-doo, but since I rarely find the aforementioned predecessors transcendent in this mode (not to mention timeline sharers ELO or Olivia Tremor Control), I’m not surprised this gets them in the collegiate listening pantheon.

Matt Cibula: I guess I see why so many people do backflips over these guys — they do a great job of updating the Eno/Byrne/Reich circular float. But I haven’t heard anything else they have ever done — we travel in different circles — so if this is their big pop move then color me pessimistic.

Chris Boeckmann: It’s like they wrote a great pop song and then (successfully) tried to figure out the most insufferable way of presenting it. I’m not opposed to experimenting with texture, but these synths sound gross and the vocals are incredibly obnoxious.

Edward Okulicz: Almost gets into a pleasing groove two minutes in, you know. Actually, better than “almost”, the second half of this song is pleasingly thuddy. Sadly the entirety is besmirched by a hideous tuneless mess masquerading as a melody for the most parts. Builds up to a pretty decent climax, but you can get your thrills elsewhere without this song’s attendant torture, so why bother?

92 Responses to “TUNES RECOVERY PROJECT: Animal Collective – My Girls”

  1. Erika’s reply:

    Seriously? This is like a freshman poetry workshop in the 1890s. “By my spouse / I only want a proper house”?

    My larger point through the various Tumblr convos is that the two 0’s here are for the most part right when it comes to a reasonable interpretation of the song — Lex is singling out the sounds, which he hates, and Rodney is pretty accurately, I think, expressing some misgivings about the dubious authenticity of the whole ascetic-becoming-a-simple-family-man thang.

  2. “don’t really need any of it” — except for M’girls. Which is what this song should have been called btw.

  3. Put me down as “love” on the love/hate scale here. I have some kneejerk AC hate as well, but this is a moving well-designed song; a kind of incantatory prayer for fatherhood in a generation that doesn’t know how to grow up.

  4. and i regret not blurbing it, cuz i wanted to spend some time discussing it but i was on the road for thanksgiving.

  5. but at least an 8 and maybe a 9.

  6. Psh, speak for yourself, I grew up just fine! And even if they’re about fatherhood, I think the lyrics to this are adolescently written, like a 16-year-olds conception of what he believes fatherhood to be. (Though really I should be directing ALL of this to the Pizza Hut/Taco Bell thread to bump up the numbers.)

  7. dude, it’s a song about YOU being a father, not about your father. I ABSOLUTELY hear this as a sixteen year old’s conception of what he believes fatherhood to be and, taken as that alone, I found this beautiful.

    Aside: I refuse to hear the climax lyric as being anything other than “I just want/ four walls and an obi sash/for my girls”. It suggests a simple desire for something ornamental and better for our children and a wholesomeness of values that brings to mind Pa in Little House in The Big Woods playing the fiddle for Laura.

    I dunno, maybe i’m Rorschaching this too much, but i do hear it and i do feel it so that’s good enough for me.

  8. As a Dad in long standing, I’m often quite fond of Dad songs. And if this one was anywhere near as coherent as, say, all the ones Eminem or Art Alexakis from Everclear have written (a vocalist who could actually put the song over might help), I might go for it. It’s not.


    LOL at how we are accused of insular bullshit but M-Perp calls them “AnCo” and it’s all good. Look for the speck in your own eye, physician heal thyself, etc.

    Actually ANCO seems like a pretty appropriate stock-exchange abbreviation/nickname for them to me but not in a good way.

  10. “Imagine if the internet as we know it now was around in 1988, and a bunch of (mostly) out-of-touch cranks got together to viciously rip on “Teenage Riot.””

    You know, I like “Teen Age Riot” better than this song (it doesn’t squander as much of its potential), but that sounds like a pretty good time. And except for the “out-of-touch” thing (which, really, LOL) it’s not even insulting! Maybe we could rip on all of Daydream Nation, since it sucks?

  11. “Basically everything that’s an instrumental element in the song sounds shabby, poorly produced, cheap–which Lex accurately pointed out”

    I think this is completely and utterly wrong and it baffles me that people keep criticising them from this angle.

  12. I only want some proper house.

  13. Look, I like Animal Collective (Feels, Spirit They’ve Gone…, most of MPP), but

    1. This isn’t a great song.
    2. It has the shape of a great song lurking inside of it, obscured by crap lyrics and a reluctance to get to the point.
    3. I can kind of accept that as an album track on MPP (as Tom said, between two better songs), but as a pop single? No.
    4. The SINGLES part of singles jukebox isn’t incidental.

    Even if you like this kind of music (and there’s nothing wrong with lex et al hating it), there are good reasons not to drink the “My Girls” koolaid. The fact that the score for this single is being taken as evidence of either nefariousness or some sort of bad faith/disingeneousness by people is just sad.

  14. Tom: Apparently it IS “like they’re social stats”, well done my ears.

    Back when the record came out, Stylus’s Ally Broon interviewed Geologist, and reported back to us that the lyric is “social status,” but is necessarily sung as “social stats.” That was the basis for me quoting it as such.

    “Social stats” would be just as awful a lyric as well, anyway.

  15. Also, I wish I could downgrade this to a [9] just so I could hypothetically rate “Teenage Riot” higher. Because *that* song is an easy [10].

  16. Sorry, Ally Brown, of course. His Scottish Internet accent infiltrated my mind.

  17. Stylus’s Ally Broon interviewed Geologist, and reported back to us that the lyric is “social status,” but is necessarily sung as “social stats.”

    Who cares what the band intended anyway? Like with all lyrics, it’s what the listener hears that matters. It’s music, for Crissakes; if a word is not pronounced clearly, that’s the singer’s fault — don’t blame the listener. And especially when interpretation is as ambiguous as with this line (I have no opinion one way or another myself, fwiw), there is no “correct” lyric.

  18. […] hacks and ageing queens that hold fort over at The Singles Jukebox give a middling review to an Animal Collective track (remember? they did that song about Oxford commas, them). Long-term ILB favourite Matthew […]

  19. No one, not critics nor bands nor anyone else, comes out of lyrical analysis in a good light. There’s a reason Animal Collective are a band and not poets.

  20. I dunno, Ian, my favorite Animal Collective album is probably still Sung Tongs, but for my money, “My Girls” ranks among their best tracks. On Merriweather at least, it’s between this and “Summertime Clothes.”

    And yes, the “singles” part of the Singles Jukebox is crucial in the sense that we’re reviewing songs out of context of their album, but I’m not sure that whether a song works as “pop” should be a primary criterion. (Unless you’re using “pop” in a super-broad sense to mean something that has a hook or is engaging. In which case I think “My Girls” does qualify, for me at least, judging by the number of times “I don’t meeean to seem like I care about material things” has surfaced in my head this year. But I think Nitsuh Abebe has written about this better.)

  21. I’m not sure that whether a song works as “pop” should be a primary criterion

    Did anybody use that as the primary criterion for their grade, or as a criterion at all, though? (A couple people noted that the record doesn’t sound especially pop, but I’m not sure anybody held that, specifically, against the record. I like tons of non-pop. If this was a good non-pop song, I would have given it a higher grade.)

  22. I thought that’s what Ian was getting at when he said he could accept the song’s flaws if the song were an album track instead of a “pop single”: as though it didn’t live up in his mind to some ideal notion of what a “pop single” should be.

    Reading his comment again, I guess he just meant that flaws are more forgivable on album tracks because they might nonetheless work within the context of an album, whereas our duty is to evaluate songs outside of that context. But if that’s the case, then the word “pop” is a red herring.

  23. Take the ‘pop’ out of ‘pop single’ and you’ve got it right, John (at least in the terms we’re talking about now, and thanks for defining some for me). You’re right, it’s a bit of a red herring, although I guess I could have said “popular single” or something.

  24. “flaws are more forgivable on album tracks because they might nonetheless work within the context of an album, whereas our duty is to evaluate songs outside of that context”

    I keep going back to this… it’s right, but there’s also a sense in which even good album tracks, ones that aren’t really flawed, don’t necessarily work as singles.

  25. Interesting. I don’t think any of that enters my mind at all when I’m rating songs here — I wouldn’t like an “8” album track any more or less than an “8” single. (And when a song shows up here, I probably just consider it a single by definition.) And I just figure my favorite album tracks deserve to be singles, whether they have commercial potential on airwaves in the real world or not. If there are exceptions, I’m not sure what they’d be.

  26. Wow at internet nerds trying to stereotype other internet nerds. Y’all letting your jealousy show.

  27. […] week we provoked the most comments (and discussion) over our, shall we say, lukewarm response to Animal Collective’s “My Girls,” theoretically the highlight from a parent album beloved our Pitchfork brethren. The review […]

  28. Lol @ shameless rockism in 2k9: “hearing them aurally high-five one another as they set off the next round of loops”

    Lol @ old school Xgau-style class reading of pop music: “even as you go to good colleges, make good money doing cultural work, and buy property in the suburbs pisses me off.”
    Think we need Panda Bear’s W-2s to better understand the music of Animal Collective. Had no idea he had property in the burbs (thought he lived in Spain or something). I know he doesn’t have a college degree ( duh, listen to his lyrics). I think the mean average income of indie knob twiddlers is about 14k. Maybe that’s privilege compared to “writers” on the internet.

    Think the complaints about the lyrics and production are valid, tho. Will be recommending this site to my grandfather (r.i.p.).

  29. My first experience of this website – fucking awful.

  30. hahaha I’m making fun of the aural high-fiving, not the fact that there’s loops (duh)

  31. hahahaha @ “rockism”

  32. Question: what do you guys think of The-Dream’s lyrics, or Electrik Red’s?

  33. Oh. come on. This is euphoria made, er, plastic. Lots of people dislike Animal Collective, don’t they? That’s an enormous amount of baggage to bring to a review.

    Mind you, to love this I do suspect you need to have been 18 circa 1990 – it has that E-build – and have a lot of daughters. Phew. That’s me.

  34. I was 4 circa 1990 (though my pops always used to walk around the house whistling “Back to Life” when I was a toddler, if that gives me cred) and have no plans of children in the forseeable future, so that’s not me at all. I do like plenty of E-damaged music, though.

    I think The-Dream’s lyrics can be either very clever or quite clumsy, often at the same time. Usually when his lyrics are clunky, they are endearingly so, but I can certainly understand that being a barrier for someone who doesn’t find the humor in his more stilted moments. His knack for small observations and understanding of just how far he can push the limits of R&B politesse (sometimes crass, but never skeevy) also make him distinct.

    Why do you ask?

  35. Uh, a huge proportion of my favourite music is all about the E build. I’m pretty sure hearing Animal Collective on E would be even worse than hearing them sober.

    I like the way The-Dream’s lyrics balance crudeness, humour and beauty really well; if there’s a quibble it’s that he can get lazy at times w/r/t construction (something Erika’s pointed out elsewhere). “Mr. Yeah” is a good example of this – I love the basic content but the objects get horribly mangled – “it ain’t they fault cuz I know they mean you well / but every time you fail / she runs right back to Mr. Yeah” – WHY DOES THE “YOU” RANDOMLY AND NONSENSICALLY SWITCH FROM THE GIRL TO THE GUYS MIDWAY THROUGH THAT.

  36. Brendan: “Good colleges” was based on Wikipedia (yeah, I know) and “property in the suburbs” on the lyrics of the song, and, considering that their album landed in the top 20 of Billboard, they are probably making a bit more than your average “indie knob twiddlers,” although I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they were legitimate starving artists five years ago.

    You miss my point though, which isn’t to berate them merely for their background. Their background in itself isn’t offensive at all (hell, not even Paris Hilton’s is), and the lyrics, whether I misheard them or not, would be lame coming from anyone, but the interplay between them really rubs me the wrong way.

    It doesn’t really matter that much in the end. I can’t deal with the sound of the record at all and probably would have only given it a [1] and written a blurb that thematically resembled Lex’s if I didn’t take issue with the lyric.

    Also, my takes on class are very different from Xgau’s. Where he sometimes seems unnecessarily critical of the upwardly mobile (a category which probably includes myself), my beef is only with this uncommitted faux-upward mobility that tries to have it both ways.

  37. I made a similar point *about* Paris Hilton’s album a few years ago — if she were actually singing about the social baggage that tends to accompany her, I would almost certainly HATE her music, but the fact of the matter is that she isn’t really in conversation with it (explicitly), and to pin this stuff to her based on what’s in her songs seemed to be missing the point. Compare, e.g., to Kevin Federline’s album, in which whatever your worst perception of him might be IS the album — and I hated the K-Fed album!

    I wrote more about The-Dream’s lyrics, AnCo’s lyrics, and the music, structure, and the seeming anxieties about material wealth that are echoed in The-Dream’s “Fancy” in interesting ways.

    Also, please comment more on the Das Racist thread.

  38. Rodney- I think you are right, the only good reason to make a discussion about a pop/indie/whatever song into a discussion about class is if the artist addresses it without being honest about it. I would like to hear what you think about “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

    What my good college told me though was that one should be wary of conflating author with speaker. I don’t think any listener would interpret this as meaning Panda Bear has actual plans to make his dwelling under under adobe slabs, or slats. I think everything about the delivery–from the way he articulates (the “stats/status” controversy), the emphasis on melody and texture over narrative–deliberately abstracts what he is saying. It’s using an affected “simple” voice for its Thoreau-ish (cheesy yes) theme–something that, for example, The White Stripes (amongst many other bands) have done in the past. So, I don’t think calling Panda Bear out on his privilege is at all relevant when the message seems to be “yearning for simplicity is a common human experience especially today, and I’m going to summon that shared feeling in my indie song.”

    Further, more than a few musicians who may or may not have grown up “legitimately starving” (badge of honor!) then go on to write songs about how they long for simpler lives, before they had status and before they had pagers. Not altogether different than with this band who have recently made a lot of money for the first time.

    Finally, the writing I’ve now read on here is mostly ace (M. Matos, “aural high five” is hilariously accurate). The tone of some of these pieces (the suburbs! college! white people!!), though, would indicate that you are not open to music made by a particular demographic. Fine. However, I find English majors devoting their time to loving Gucci Mane and hating on indie rock (an all too common “social stance”) more uncomfortable and misguided than anything in this song, annoying as it may be.

  39. I liked it.

  40. Much like Santa Claus or the human race, Animal Collective require a leap of faith.

  41. i thought the line was “material things OR a social status”. which makes a bit more sense. not great lyrics though.

    seeing them tonite. i quite like them.

  42. Scott Seward on ILM (different song, who cares):

    the song is “also frightened”. doesn’t thrill me, really. got the martin denny + beach boys swirly swirl thing going on. no real song to speak of.