My Girls – Animal Collective
…I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things
like my social status
I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls…
Just a beautiful song – from Animal Collective’s 8th LP Merriweather Post Pavilion (named after a real place in Maryland) which has many fine moments, and was for me, the best album of 2009, although looking back at my music, it wasn’t a vintage year by any means. Funny how that happens. We had Cesaria Evora (see my pop life #14), Drake, Laura Marling and Duckworth Lewis Method, we had Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ ‘Empire State Of Mind’ and Dizzy Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’, we had Fever Ray, Dirty Projectors, Tinariwen and critical darlings the XX who did nothing for me. I have got other stuff from 2009 to post, but it was thin stuff on the whole, or to be diplomatic…it was a transitional period shall we say…
Animal Collective in 2008-9 comprised of Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Avey Tare (David Portner), and Geologist (Brian Weitz), all on keyboards and eletronica. Guitarist Deakin (Josh Dibb) had taken a sabbatical from the band at this point, and there is no guitar on the LP.
This song would have stood out in any year – the strange time signature, soulful vocals, unusual melody and honest lyrics – about the reasonable ambition of providing your family with a home . The way the economies of America and Europe are at the moment, the way the music business has shrunk since the internet stole the music, musicians can no longer earn enough money to pay a mortgage sadly. I’m talking about established musicians like Animal Collective or Everything Everything, people who’ve been doing it for years, been in magazines, on TV, released LPs. They can’t afford to buy a house.
I was a part-time musician while I lived in Brighton and all the musicians I know there work really hard for very little financial reward. I’ve sat in a pub and played piano for £40, belting out your favourite songs while the hubbub vibrates around you. Background music for midweek drinkers. It’s one of the best things about Brighton, the amount of free live music there, reminding me of Boulder, Colorado or Austin, Texas, live music pouring from every bar door. Even when my band, the mighty Brighton Beach Boys, played a “proper gig”, eg Shoreham Ropetackle or Worthing Pier, we’d get £100 each max. That’s just how it is. When I saw the Mingus Big Band in New York the other week and got chatting to the alto player, they were on the same money too. A hit single used to be a way to supplement all the live income, but not any more. It’s just not enough. 3 hit singles, 4 and 5 and an album – well maybe. Even David Bowie’s last album only sold 700,000 copies, apparently. The record companies ripped us off for so long though. The CD era was the worst, they only cost $2 to make maximum, they were charging £17 at one point. There’s a guy in the North Laine selling CDs for £5 each, clearly he’s making a profit, why were we paying so much in the 1990s?
But plus ca change. People don’t decide to play music, or become actors for the huge earnings. But think twice before you rip that next song?
2009 was also the year I started to participate in Readers Recommend, part of the GuardianMusic online community. This has been running since 2005 and was initiated by journalist and writer Dorian Lynskey. There is a new topic every week – the first week was Songs About Change. The idea is that readers of the column suggest songs they like for a final playlist to be compiled and printed a week later. Dorian’s first playlist included Sam Cooke, Notorious BIG, The Who and Muse. The column has now been running for over 14 years. I joined in that January in 2009 when I stumbled across it online, as I guess most people do. Songs about Anti-Love was the topic and I suggested Bessie Smith’s version of Careless Love. By that point Maddy Costa had taken the chair and she chose Bessie for her playlist. I was hooked.
I’ve been playing it off and on for the last six years. The playlist compiler has become known as the “Guru” and I have taken the chair myself on a number of occasions, now that the community is democratic and volunteers from the readership are encouraged to put their names forward. It’s quite a task, to listen to everyone’s songs, and choose a dozen that will illuminate the topic. I have begun to prefer the more musical topics (such as songs with great middle eights, or songs with falsetto singing), over the plainly lyrical topics. The game isn’t just about scoring A-listers, although it is competitive. It’s about discovering new music, and being diplomatic about other people’s taste in music. Very rare on the internet! Which is why we keep coming back I guess. All the information is available at The Marconium, a compendium of all of the Readers Recommend columns and playlists in handy format, compiled by one of our brethren Marconius7, who resides in British Columbia. It’s pretty addictive, people flounce off every now and again, sometimes with no fanfare, I’ve done it myself quite a few times, but I’ve always come back, because, well I’m addicted to music, and it’s generally good fun.
This last weekend I have been the Guru again – for the seventh time I think – the topic set by Peter Kimpton, our current Guru of Gurus (ie a paid writer at The Guardian!) was Songs About Ambition. Many many great songs were suggested, and as ever, I had to whittle them down to 12 A-listers. My Girls made it, naturally. The final column can be found here : Ambition Playlist!
January 2009 was also when Barack Obama was elected President Of The USA for the first time. A true landmark moment. Why? Because white Americans had voted for a black American, that’s why. It was the start of a healing process which is going to take longer than two terms. As I write Baltimore is going up in flames for all the usual reasons – neglect, loss of jobs, marginalisation, leave the cops to sort it out.
And now I find, sitting in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn on Wednesday April 29th 2015 with my two cats Boy and Roxy, that I am missing My Girls. My #1 girl is in Dublin tonight. My wife has gone to see our dear friend Catherine Walker in Hedda Gabler at the Abbey Theatre before celebrating her sister Lucy’s birthday and seeing her parents. My #2 girl Skye, daughter of Tom and Scarlett has just turned 9 months old, Jenny will get to see her on this trip but I’m missing her baby year. My #3 girl Delilah-Rose, daughter of Millie is my god-daughter and aged 7, also lives in Brighton and I miss baby-sitting her, picking her up from school, taking her to school and everything else. Here I am in Denver, sipping California wine, and I’ve got all night to remember them, I’m in a Lone Star state of mind. Kind of thing.
My Girls – Animal Collective: