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Album Review: Merriweather Post Pavilion – Animal Collective

Let me begin this review by saying this is one of those rare albums where I have never even had a neglected desire to skip a song; it’s just that good all the way through. Named after the outdoor venue in Maryland, Merriweather Post Pavilion marks Animal Collectives eighth studio album. With the absence of their guitarist Josh Dibb, known as “Deakin”, the group began to write songs without the guitar included. The result is one of the best experimental albums ever to be recorded.

Merriweather, which clocks in at 54 minutes with 11 songs, is a great experience with any sound system, but is unforgettable with a pair of superb headphones. Stereo listening really enhances this album as well; it is full of exotic electronics that just don’t have the same impact in mono. Highlights of this album for me are the harmonies between Avey Tare (David Portner) and Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), the rich melodies of the songs, and the production of the album. Many of the songs flow excellently into one another, something I always like when done well, and the whole album feels very cohesive and well put together. Hardcore fans collectively dislike this album because it is much more accessible and melody-driven than their previous albums, but that is not the case for me. I have difficulty getting into some of their previous work and feel that, although Merriweather is more comprehensible, it is still very experimental and “animal collective-ish.” Give the album a listen to see what I mean, and be sure to use the best quality earphone/buds that you own!

The opening song, “In the Flowers”, is one of my favorites on the album. The synthesizer melody represents the ghost of Josh Dibb’s guitar; it is easy to hear a guitar in place of the synthesizer here and it surely would have been if Dibb was present for the album. The lyrics of the song stand out and capture the attention. They are similar to “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles, leaving you wondering if it describes an acid trip or if there is a deeper meaning. Halfway through the song, Avey Tare says, “If I could just leave my body for the night”, and suddenly the song turns into an explosion of sounds and emotions, sounding as if his wish had just become reality. This shows how completely self-aware the music is of the lyrics, and it helps to make you feel like you are experiencing everything described by the singer. This transition is one of the highlights of the album, and it really adds a lot of depth to the song.  There is so much to listen to, and every time I hear the song I notice different sounds during the second half I have never heard before.

Another song that stands out to me is “Bluish.” This song has a very interesting chord progression and boasts superb lyrics. It is almost a sequel to their song “The Purple Bottle”; both are their attempts at a love song in which they use colors as a metaphor, in this case blue and purple. It’s the least literal love song you’ll ever hear, packed with figurative speech, making it refreshing and thought-provoking. And the music itself is fantastic; there is a certain beauty to it despite the fact that a lot of the lyrics seem to hint towards conflict between the singer and his lover. There is a sense of realism in the song that says no relationship is perfect; the two have their fights but they still love each other despite it. I have always thought the vocals represent the fights, while the music, especially the beautiful piano during the chorus represents the love and the beauty that one sees in their significant other. Another part of the song that gives me the feeling of a balance between love and conflict is the opening sequence. When the synthesizer melody comes in, it sounds like an out of tune piano. This “out of tune” feeling in the melody could represent the conflict within love. Even if it means nothing of that sort, I think it sounds really cool and makes for a great opening to a wonderful song.

After a list of memorable songs that are each unique with varying time signatures, the album closes with a song called “Brother Sport.” Much like “In the Flowers”, there is so much to listen to and it is easy to hear things you’ve never noticed before after nearly a decade of its release. There is an unusual segment in the middle of the song with no words and no real melody; it is an interlude of sounds that dazzles the ear and provokes the brain. This sequence is a perfect example of how many layers Animal Collective adds to their songs, which is something that impresses me the most about them. It is almost as if they write songs thinking, “let’s see how many layers we can add together and still have a cohesive song.” This is a very unique talent that few bands are able to pull off effectively. Animal Collective are one of those bands, as all the sounds in their songs are complimentary, not random. They have everything in its right place and they showcase that fact on this album perfectly

Album Rating: 9.5/10

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The Art of Tasteful Drumming

Picture a world where there was only one style of drumming, a single drum beat, and a solitary tempo for every song. Music would become as repetitive as daytime television and pop radio stations. Fortunately, music is an art which means there are infinite sounds to create and experiment with. Unfortunately, music is also an art which means it is subjective and people are therefore allowed to like The Chainsmokers. Since music has limitless possibilities and variations, there are plenty of drum beats to choose from. A tasteful drummer is one who has a knack for choosing the beat that best compliments a song and gives it character, rather than a beat that showcases the extent of their skill.

Before I give a song that demonstrates tasteful drumming, I will first talk about what isn’t tasteful drumming. “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes is an example of a song in which the drums merely keep the rhythm and nothing more. Even during the chorus, Meg White just mimics the guitar, adding nothing new or interesting to a song with a fatally simple structure to begin with. I think the drums could be much more interesting and actually add something to spice up the song.

Tasteful drummers, such as Ringo Starr, find a way to keep rhythm and add to a given song simultaneously; his beats may not require a ton of skill to play, but they are creative, interesting, and never overdone. But most importantly, they perfectly blend together with the style of The Beatles and help to give the songs character, making him a tasteful drummer.

To demonstrate this point I will list a few songs and talk about his choice of technique for each. Starting with “A Day in the Life”, arguably the best Beatles song, Ringo is an integral part of what makes it great. Sometimes simplicity is a virtue, and that holds true in this case. Ringo doesn’t come in until the second verse at the 47 second mark, allowing for the song to slowly build up. His fills are unique and not overdone, while his timing compliments the song excellently. It’s hard to imagine the song with any difference in the drums.

Another Beatles track that is a masterpiece in part due to Ringo’s tasteful input is “In My Life.” Rubber Soul marked the period when the Beatles transitioned from craftsmen to artists. Their albums became deeper and more experimental in music, lyrics, and production, and it shows on songs like “In My Life.” Ringo opts for a very simple but distinctive beat, and it blends perfectly with the style and feel of the song. This is a textbook example of a rhythm that not only keeps the tempo, but simultaneously adds character to the song, giving it that final touch and masterpiece status.

After listening to these two songs, try picturing them with symbol crashing rock drums like that of The Who or Led Zeppelin; it doesn’t fit whatsoever. Although Ringo’s drum beats are easy to replicate, they are exactly what The Beatles needed to help become one of the greatest and most influential bands in the history of music.

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7 Great Songs with Banjo

In this Severin’s Seven, I will be exploring songs from a variety of artists who incorporate the banjo into the song. This list is not ranked in any particular order, nor are they necessarily better than the honorable mentions. Hope you enjoy and comment below what you think!

 

  1. Wendell Gee – R.E.M.

Wendell Gee is the last song on R.E.M.’s third album, Fables of the Reconstruction. The song wraps up the album with several highlights; the voice-cracking chorus, the rich bassline, and of course, the banjo. Coming in at the close of the second chorus and lasting for the rest of the song, it completes the track, giving it that final touch. Lead guitarist Peter Buck stated that the song wouldn’t be what it is without the banjo solo.

Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCaZQS_S4H4

  1. Old Man – Neil Young

Perhaps Neil Young’s most well-known song, “Old Man” appears on the album Harvest. This is a classic sad Neil song that features James Taylor on six-string banjo, giving the song its unique character. Taylor’s banjo during each chorus alongside Neil’s vocals help to turn the song into an emotional masterpiece.

Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAtDrFdomN4

  1. Trains – Porcupine Tree

Porcupine Tree, headed by songwriter Steven Wilson, began as a joke band, purely for the members to have fun. When they realized that their music was marketable, they began to transition from a joke band to serious musicians. “Trains” appears on their album In Absentia and features a slow buildup, starting with acoustic and progressing to electric. At the end of the buildup, when the song seems over, a banjo solo begins. The sequence is unexpected and could ruin the song for some, but in my opinion it adds an interesting outro to an already great song.

Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UHwkfhwjsk

  1. The Chain – Fleetwood Mac

When Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac, the style and direction of the band changed dramatically. The two Americans added their styles to what the Brits had–Buckingham taking over lead guitar and Nicks offering her intense vocals. The second album released after this change in members, Rumours, features “The Chain.” Unlike the other tracks on this list, the banjo is the first instrument heard. The song is a concoction of three different incomplete tunes that the band decided to blend together. Along with the bass drum, the banjo helps to give a mysterious-sounding opening, leaving the listener wondering where the song will go.

Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcawnRIyeok

  1. Casimir Pulaski Day – Sufjan Stevens

Stevens released the second album of his fifty-state project in 2005 titled Illinois, which contains “Casimir Pulaski Day.” It is a quiet song and features a slow progression of instruments including horns and, you guessed it: the banjo. Much like “Old Man,” this is an example of a song that is great by itself, but is given additional character due to Steven’s banjo.

Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxMYqsvgX8c

  1. Squeeze Box – The Who

Squeeze box is a slang term for the accordion which is played by Pete Townshend in the song. However, this song makes the list because of the banjo solo at the end of the track. The Who By Numbers was their seventh studio album and was released in 1975. The track is laced with sexual innuendos in Roger Daltrey’s vocals, and despite its simplicity, it manages to stay unpredictable and different due to the background accordion and banjo solo.

Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pW3PSKJ-Bik

  1. Sexx Laws – Beck

If there were a single song to encapsulate Beck’s unique sound, it would have to be “Sexx Laws.” Appearing on Midnight Vultures, one needn’t look further than the album cover to conclude, “this is going to be weird.” The opening track will confirm this suspicion; it has a blend of countless styles. The song begins with a brass intro before it is met with funky electronics and jazz piano. Before you can get used to this interesting mix of sounds, a country-sounding banjo solo takes over, giving the song a new direction. The unexpected solo alongside the sweeping electronics is classic Beck and assists in giving the song its overall theme of all or nothing.

Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u219yphosYE

Honorable Mentions:

  • Take It Easy – The Eagles
  • Pretty Boy Floyd – The Byrds
  • Honky Cat – Elton John
  • High Water – Bob Dylan

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