Monday, March 9, 2009

Animal Hospital - Memory

Animal Hospital
(03.2009, Barge)
RIYL = Scott Tuma, The Fun Years, Ben Frost

I think that the very best new music being produced is often the kind that is near impossible to define. You know, the kind of music that avoids easy categorization and somehow overturns all preconceived notions about what an album should be. Animal Hospital’s Memory is shining example of that kind of album. However, I think I would do it a disservice to stop there - to simply say, “This is some of the best new music I’ve heard and you’ll only understand once you’ve listened to it.” While that statement would be true, it’s just more fun to risk embarrassment by trying to define something that is this good. I think the first and safest way to approach Memory is in terms of Barge. What I mean here, is in terms of the label which has presented this fine recording. The first thing that you should know is that Barge Records does not put simply ‘good music.’ In fact, the label seems to avoid even ‘great music.’ Nope, with only a couple releases seeping out a year, Barge only has time to spend their energy on the very best new music being produced in the realms of forward thinking experimental music. This couldn’t be more evident than in last year’s glorious sophomore release from The Fun Years, Baby, It's Cold Inside. With Memory, Barge has just upped the ante. Animal Hospital is one Kevin Micka and Memory is pretty much the coolest experimental record I’ve heard, probably since that Fun Years record. Micka is a multi-instrumentalist of the highest quality and in the years proceeding Memory has honed his skills in a live setting by playing and looping his instruments into effervescent concoctions that sound like the work produced by a four piece band (and a talented one at that). Memory continues this aesthetic, using a looping pedal at a much more sophisticated level than I’ve heard in the past. However, even with his obvious relationship with loops, Memory provides so much more. The album’s seven tracks range from 2 minutes to 17 minutes in length and in the course of the album’s stretch, make some unexpected turns that extend the realm Animal Hospital’s sound into mythic territory. The opener starts things of peaceful, contemplative and clear with a tinkering music box and crystal guitar lines. This is followed by the epic stroke of “His Belly Burst,” a gorgeous and lengthy track built up Cello work contributed by Jonah Sacks. The work morphs and bleeds into "2nd Anniversary," a transitional track filled with swelling drones that are punctuated by resonant staccato guitar plucks that pierce the atmosphere of the song. All this builds up slowly to the centerpiece of the album, “…and ever.” I almost feel like I should put up a spoiler alert here because it might be better if you were blindsided by this track without being previously tipped off. Consider yourself warned: after laying an elegant foundation, Micka sends Memory in to astral territory. “...and ever” is announced by a thick base line that is quickly layered with a series of guitars and then punctuated by a griffin slaying guitar line that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Boris record. As the structure heaves, Micka’s briefly adds vocals into the mix and then continues to send the structure heavenward. The track continues to build until the building fades into the sky and the clouds become the building and the building becomes the clouds. It is kind of what you would expect to accompany an onslaught led by Zeus or something. As the dust of construction clears, a heart beat emerges along with a clutter of loops and again, that throbbing bass. I don’t know exactly how this here Animal Hospital works, but the entrance of Micka’s wordless vocals and comforting guitar line on “a safe place” makes me feel like the previous destruction/construction was simply the cleansing agent necessary for some poor animals full recovery. Once “Nostalgia” sets in, everything feels perfect and resolved, but this brief beachside sojourn is simply a daydream setting up the final sixteen plus minutes of the title track. I won’t completely destroy the sequencing by revealing the ending, suffice it to say – it is good, really really good. So yeah, there's not a specific defining thread that I can tie the whole thing together with, but Memory is all the better for it. I don’t imagine that there is any other way to move from Scott Tuma to Godspeed! to Mogwai to Boris to Tortoise to The Fun Years and still make a cohesive and wholly individual record. After you hear Memory, it will all make sense. I guess I can only say this: Thank you Animal Hospital and thank you Barge!

- Lil' Thistle


Justin Snow said...

I've been hearing fantastic things about Memory although I haven't heard it yet. I've seen him before (as he lives in Boston) and he puts on a really good live show. Sounds like his new one is much better than his self titled, which was really good, but not quite the masterpiece everyone is saying this is. Sadly, I missed his release party that was just a few weeks ago. I'm sure it was amazing. I'll have to pick this up sooner rather than later.

Jonathan Paul Doerr said...

The first time I heard Animal Hospital was on the Innature compilation from 2006, and I remember really disliking the track. Memory is absolutely incredible though. The ideas seem more concise and wholly expressed. "His Belly Bursts" and the general tone of this album remind me of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Hopes and Past Desires. There isn't a wasted note or sound on the entire album, and everything is held so carefully even at the most intense moments.