15 Years Ago, The Most Hipster Rock Album Was Perfect And Terrible
Luckily, now we can call this album what it is — dad rock.
Nobody has ever self-identified as a hipster. But, in the early aughts, one thing was certain, the people accusing other people of being hipsters were, at least half the time, probably hipsters. Back then, lazy slurs against folks who wore skinny jeans spread mostly through word-of-mouth. Social media was slightly slower, which created a certain kind of lag time for coolness. Fifteen years ago, in 2009, you had to wait at least a day or two to really figure out how to feel about some new band or film, before parroting the opinion of your friends at the vintage clothing store.
In this hazy, hungover, half-analog, half-digital epoch — in which it was just as likely that DJs were using burned CDs, actual vinyl, or their small-brick-sized click-wheeled iPods — there was, briefly, one album that everybody who denied being a hipster loved. That album was Merriweather Post Pavilion, from Animal Collective.
At the time, on January 6th, 2009, Merriweather Post Pavilion was the most hipster pop-rock album of all time. You had never heard reverb and layered vocals like this before, and so, if you happened to catch them live, the magic trick of recreating a very in-the-studio-album, in person, was always impressive. In defense of all the early aughts music created by (mostly) white hipsters, the clothes and the scene and the affects were hardly ever the point. The musicianship of Animal Collective was then, and still is, quite solid, and when it comes to synth-heavy bands, they’re certainly as good, if not better, than The Postal Service.
But here’s the thing with Merriweather Post Pavilion. In 2009 it was Animal Collective’s eighth album, give or take a few earlier records that were retroactively labeled as products of said “collective.” Since 1999, Animal Collective has (usually) consisted of members Avey Tare (Dave Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Geologist (Brian Weitz), and Deakin (Brian Weitz). If you think it’s insufferably twee that an indie pop band found all its members giving themselves stage names, I invite you to try and imagine the moment when Daft Punk decided they were both going to wear robot helmets all the time. It’s hard to rationalize this kind of artistic posing because, in many ways, it's the opposite of authenticity.
And here’s where Animal Collective is both a great band and also the kind of thing that might have only appealed to art students interested in sound art. In order for a band to be truly great, they have to have some kind of large appeal. And, I’m just going to say it right now, if you jump back to the Animal Collective albums just before Merriweather Post Pavilion — specifically Strawberry Jam (2007) and Feels (2005) — you’ll find albums that are artistically solid, but a bit discordant and slightly less coherent than Merriweather Post Pavilion. Like if you were high, you could mistake Feels for an Of Montreal album, and not always in a good way.
This is a complicated way of saying that Merriweather Post Pavilion deserves to be Animal Collective’s most famous record because up until that point, it's their nicest record. It feels more coherent than previous efforts, even if it is accidentally a bit more mainstream. If you thought it was their debut album in 2009, you’re forgiven, because it’s the moment when they gained a bigger audience. And, at the risk of making a huge generalization, Merriweather Post Pavilion mostly lacks some of that twee silliness of previous records. They’re not talking about weird invented characters like “boneface” here like they were on Strawberry Jam, and the album feels like it's the soundtrack to a very idyllic summer. (Yes, I know the album was released in January, but sonically, it feels like summer. Plus, “Summertime Clothes.”)
We’ll get to the most famous track on the album in a moment, but the opener, “In the Flowers,” is a deeply underrated first track of any album ever. Many bands would have stuck this epic banger on the end of a record because it’s that massive and cool. But, what endures about Animal Collective is their self-assuredness. Just like they were confident enough to adopt silly stage names, they also knew that sticking a track like “In the Flowers” as the first track of a very big album would work.
Of course, it transitions to what is easily the most famous track on the album, “My Girls,” which, Noah Lennox revealed is, in fact, a song about fatherhood. For some, this song was made slightly more famous by Beyoncé in 2016, on the track “6 Inch” — mostly because of an accidental lyrical similarity. But, today, what “My Girls” does is prove that Merriweather Post Pavilion was, perhaps, destined for immortality simply because it’s not-so-secretly a dad rock album. From the sweetness of “My Girls” to the lazy coolness of “Summertime Clothes,” the album is now, in 2024, perfect for putting on while you’re making your family dinner. This isn’t an insult. This is why the album is interesting. It has survived being a hipster album of a certain moment, and now, it’s just simply good; no scenester strings attached.
What seemed cool in 2009 for many of us is not what seems cool now. Merriweather Post Pavilion may have been the soundtrack to a rowdier life for those who remember when it first dropped. But, it’s possible we didn’t fully get it back then because it was so of its time. Merriweather Post Pavilion, in certain circles, felt oppressively cool. It was the most perfect and terrible hipster rock album ever. But now, taken out of its context, this solid album can finally be listened to by calmer versions of ourselves, who, really aren’t concerned with material things. For real this time.
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