It’s so perfect that you might think it’s fake (I mean, DJ Tao Lin?!), but no, that’s a show that really happened in Williamsburg circa 2011. Those days are gone, and largely unlamented. (Does anyone know what happened to Neon Indian? Is he still haunting what used to be 285 Kent, like a sort of PBR-clutching Phantom of the Opera?)
Animal Collective, though — you’d think perhaps their music might have aged better. But hey, try it yourself: go back and listen to Merriweather Post Pavilion, an album that was received with rapturous reviews in 2009 and was pretty much unanimously acclaimed at the time as representing the apogee of the band’s artistic vision. By that point, Panda Bear’s Person Pitch had been out for two years, chillwave was chilling and waving for all it was worth, and neo-pastoral psychedelia was the Sound of a Generation. At the time it felt hyper-modern.
These days, though, it suddenly also seems very much of its time. Or perhaps not suddenly, because this realization has been building for a while. Animal Collective’s 2012 album Centipede Hz elicited a whole lot of reviews that sort of danced around the fact that it wasn’t very good (including Stereogum memorably declaring that “we need to accept the possibility of a record so excellent we don’t understand it yet”). The most notable thing about Centipede Hz, though, was that it felt somehow out of step with what was happening — 2012 gave us a lot of music that was direct and heartfelt in radically different ways (Channel Orange, Visions, The Money Store), and in comparison, the obliqueness of Animal Collective’s sound felt less fascinating than it did forbidding.
If you had to identify a sound that’s hyper-modern in 2015, it’s probably something like PC Music, which is defined specifically by its lack of a defining sound — it’s the sound of 100 disparate influences thrown together, the sort of music that Grimes had in mind when she coined the phrase “post-Internet.” It’s weird, bewildering, and most importantly, it’s exuberantly digital music. In comparison to that, Animal Collective starts to sound like what it’s always been — a 2000s take on the music of the 1960s, inspired by acid and a sort of bug-eyed, youthful sense of wonder.
That’s not to say the subject matter’s always been innocent — as Flavorwire’s Shane Barnes points out, Panda Bear, at least, has long addressed the subject of mortality in his lyrics (and remains perhaps the only musician to record an album in his dying father’s hospital room). But there’s a certain innocence, or at least faux-innocence, to Animal Collective and the music they inspired — as we’ve discussed, chillwave was all about re-imagining a sort of mythical, pastoral past into which one could escape, and long before that Animal Collective themselves were making records that were basically the sound of three kids discovering acid and decamping to the woods for several years.
There’s something paradoxical about all this. Innocence is, by its very nature, timeless — by definition, it dictates that you’re not particularly aware of the world around you. Cynicism, by contrast, is very much a product of circumstance — it’s a reaction to the way things are at a specific time. And yet innocence doesn’t age well, perhaps because it also involves an embrace of the new, and what’s new at one point will inevitably feel dated in due course. Cynicism is more like a re-endorsement of what seem like universal truths — that human nature can be, and often is, inherently selfish and brutal.
None of this, of course, is to say that Animal Collective are no longer good, or that they were never so. At their peak, their music achieved the sort of boundary-pushing weirdness that forced even skeptics like me to admit they were doing something interesting and different. But it suddenly seems so… so 2000s. Cultural cycles work faster than ever these days, and it’s all too easy for the sound that defines an era to be left behind.