Blatant Animal Collective Ripoff: On the Disappointingly Impermanent Influence of “Merriweather Post Pavilion”’s Washer Pop

Commemorating Animal Collective’s earnest stab at moving popular rock music forward and the nine bands that should be dictating the sounds of 2018.
Blatant Animal Collective Ripoff: On the Disappointingly Impermanent Influence of “Merriweather Post Pavilion”’s Washer Pop

Commemorating Animal Collective’s earnest stab at moving popular rock music forward and the nine bands that should be dictating the sounds of 2018.

Words: Mike LeSuer

March 12, 2018

At this time nine years ago, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was unleashed upon the world to nearly unanimous rave reviews, even inspiring some critics to close the AOTY polls just five days into 2009. There have been few recent records so refreshing as the band’s eighth studio album, pivoting from established, polarizing fringe genres such as freak folk and neo-psychedelia to a unique multi-sensory experience not dissimilar to the hypnotism of watching—and hearing—a full load of florals rinsing on a slow spin cycle. With an instantly iconic album cover to seal the deal (“look for it in the wallpaper department of your favorite store,” quipped Letterman), MPP reached number thirteen on the US Billboard chart, and seemed destined to share the fate of game-changing releases from the likes of Radiohead and Nirvana in the previous decade.

But if heavy playtime on your local grocery store’s radio channel and frequent covers by conventionally attractive singers are any indication of success, AnCo and their washing machine pop music never quite broke through to the public consciousness like their forebears—or even their contemporary Bears. Where Nevermind and OK Computer influenced a dramatic shift in rock’s zeitgeist, MPP seems to have been admitted into the In the Aeroplane Over the Sea school of records you fall in love with in college and eventually outgrow. Meanwhile, Veckatimest and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, more traditional non-mainstream rock albums, seem to have established residency on the airwaves of department stores across the country. With the influential alternative rock albums of preceding years helping to define the direction the genre takes, why does Merriweather Post Pavilion stand alone among the Grizzly Bears and Phoenixes of its time? More specifically, why did MPP’s washer pop sound never catch on?

As is typically the case nowadays, the answer is probably: the Internet. 2009 was the approximate peak of music blogs toting free MP3 downloads of bedroom pop artists—a name given to young musicians literally crafting tracks in their dorm rooms or studio apartments, typically in a quickly-gentrifying Brooklyn—alongside coverage of major releases from Animal Collective and others. Yet with most things on the Internet, the perks of egalitarianism were undermined by the wrath of the comments sections, shoutboxes, and personal music review blogs, which were, for whatever reason, absolutely brutal in accusing fledgeling musicians of biting AnCo’s style.

If you sift through the Google results for “Animal Collective clones” (quotes are imperative, unless you’re interested in reading up on animal cloning), you’ll find a number of articles from this period promoting certain artists by setting them apart from (and ruthlessly bashing) their hipster MPP-doting peers. By 2012, anyone left trilling pop hooks over droning samplers was to be either ignored or derided, though most of the prominent musicians in Animal Collective’s scene—Arcade Fire, Yeasayer, TV on the Radio—permitted themselves to make a similar shift away from analog instruments and towards more danceable choruses. Additionally, genres like chillwave were established, which offered commercial success to artists relying on an ’80s aesthetic to set them apart from anything that may sound like a step toward the future. In three years’ time, it was perfectly clear that washer pop would not be soundtracking future shopping trips.

Which is actually really sad, because there were plenty of artists who either changed their sound or aborted their projects altogether after one release of woozy, psychedelic DIY-pop got torn apart on shoutboxes and Rate Your Music forums. If Merriweather Post Pavilion had been received as the beginning of a new chapter in contemporary rock music—namely, one where guitars are irrelevant—rather than a standalone record uniquely attractive to blasphemers, we may have seen a movement arise which would allow for experimentation within a genre that, like shoegaze, math rock, or even chillwave, has a pretty narrow definition. Like grunge, the genre would inevitably be normalized and perhaps even repackaged for mass audiences (what would Animal Collective’s Nickelback sound like?), permitting Home Depot to cast “My Girls” out into their vast warehouses of Tim Taylor types without eliciting a single “awrugh?”

Because this alternative timeline is so incredibly hard to pull ourselves away from, let’s consider the artists who would presently be the subject of coverage for the music blogs that survived the crackdown on file-sharing. Signing to familiar labels on the coattails of successful Bandcamp uploads, pushing past their sophomore slumps, and returning with their most refined releases to date, let’s all heave a big sigh and remember these nine acts—one for every year of Muse-inspired mainstream rock we’ve suffered through—who deserve to be helping to shape the sounds of 2018.

1. Le Loup

Bio: washer pop band playing to a Fleet Foxes market
Notable release: Family (Hardly Art, 2009)
Status: disbanded shortly after minor touring of Family

2. Hooray for Earth

Bio: washer pop band, but with a social life
Notable release: Momo EP (Dovecote, 2010)
Status: disbanded after two more relatively successful studio albums with vocalist Noel Heroux going on to form the not-entirely-different—albeit less sudsy—Mass Gothic

3. Nurses

Bio: neo-folksters who happened to share a recording space (i.e. neon-splattered cave) with AnCo
Notable release: Dracula (Dead Oceans, 2011)
Status: radio silence up until the sudden release of last year’s less-cavernous Naughtland

4. Keepaway

Bio: washer pop band with an awareness of hip-hop
Notable release: Baby Style EP (Lefse, 2010)
Status: their Facebook hasn’t seen any activity since 2014, two years after the release of their major-flop debut LP

5. Netherfriends

Bio: washer pop band with an awareness of hip-hop and the limitation of nostalgia
Notable release: Does Nilsson (self-released, 2011)
Status: thriving, albeit as a piano dude, among other deviations

6. Korea the Space

Bio: washer pop band who like their fis both sci- and lo-
Notable release: Second Head (self-released, 2011)
Status: ??? since 2013

7. Tearjerker

Bio: washer pop band who don’t get excited about much
Notable release: Strangers (Almost Communist, 2011)
Status: still breathing

8. Sunglasses

Bio: die-hard AnCo fans—but more so, die-hard Adult Swim fans
Notable release: Sunglasses EP (Lefse, 2010)
Status: nothing since 2012’s underwhelming debut LP

9. Painted Palms

Bio: washer pop band willing to tap the zeitgeist
Notable release: Forever (Polyvinyl, 2014)
Status: still swimming upstream