A Sunny Day in Glasgow
(Mis Ojos Discos; 2009)
By Conrad Amenta | 7 October 2009
At what moment did Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion first announce itself as some next-level candidate for album of the year? If you said somewhere between the ecstatic outburst of drumming in opener “In the Flowers” and the first chorus of “My Girls”—which is to say, somewhere in the album’s opening minutes—then you’re not alone. There’s something about those segments that’s almost biological, something that makes attentions and skins prick alike. Shit’s fundamental. And despite Animal Collective’s tendency towards whooshing abstractions their particular kind of melodic and percussive perfection has appeal that’s pretty much immediate if most’s nigh hyperbolic reactions are any indication. When “My Girls” leaked there seemed to be an almost universal acknowledgment that MPP would be an album that was impossible to ignore, an album that would be, as a foregone conclusion, simply great. It turned out to be more complicated than that of course, with the album’s success a confluence of the band’s gradual development towards accessibility, that it followed Panda Bear’s much-lauded Person Pitch (2007), the demographic penetration of those early leaks, the unintentional and still strategically perfect endorsements by certain other popular bands, etc. Nonetheless: the rest is history. MPP seems destined for most media outlets’ AOTY list, in a spot right at the top.
There’s some bittersweet notion then that an album as good as A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s Ashes Grammar is going to get slept on even in a year when a band like Animal Collective will top year end lists. Should this not instead be the year of cosmic justice, of bedfellows and demographic emergence? Why can’t one lead to the other? What better year than a year when Animal Collective becomes the mainstream for everyone to get turned on to exciting sounds of this Philadelphia band?
Which brings us to “Failure,” the second fully formed song from the band’s second album, which also serves as unintentional announcement and biological catalyst of the greater beast that is Ashes Grammar and 2009’s other best album. Consider this review preemptive: the album is more likely to be remembered for being released in the same year as MPP as it is for its own merits and I’m yelling from the rooftops here. This band may not have the same confluence of events or context on their side with which to launch the record to exciting places, but “Failure,” whether listened to loudly or intimately in headphones, somehow stirs those same reserves as “My Girls”; it’s stratospheric keys and tumbling drums appeal on a similarly genetic level; it implies that the music to follow—every gorgeous lick of it—should be impossible to ignore. Ashes Grammar should launch a career.
Maybe it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Scribble Mural Comic Journal (2006) was a pretty good album too. But the undeniable quality of this follow up (again, like MPP) hits like bricks. The formula the band established with Scribble—that of textural ambience and the Daniels sisters’ dense vocal melodies over conventional rhythm—is here exploded with perfect production to match depth to breadth. The songs hum like electricity and thump like groundswells, surprising and shifting with innovative pacing and dynamics. But they also sound natural and unhurried, seamlessly patched. The sisters’ unidentifiable lyrics are no less engrossing for their incomprehensibility; the preempted mini-pastiche of each short song no less committed to the album’s overall aesthetic. That “Ashes Grammer” is divided from “Ashes Math” makes as much sense as their sum when combined. “Close Chorus” continues Scribble‘s tendency to not only approximate but maybe even improve upon Stereolab’s electro-lounge before to evolves—again, so naturally that it’s almost unnoticeable—into some of the best shoegazing pop to come out this year; and then “Shy” picks it up where “Close Chorus” ends. “Passionate Introverts (Dinosaurs)” shimmies and shivers with trembling ambient noise and melodic techno. And together it’s ineluctable truth: A Sunny Day in Glasgow are writing years ahead of where they should be for such a young band, forming gargantuan records of consistently enjoyable and inventive melodic rock.
It’s a direct line I’m drawing here between this group and Animal Collective, and that’s intentional. What I’m grasping at is that there are things that both bands have done—Animal Collective as 2009 opened and A Sunny Day in Glasgow as it’s drawing to a close—that might serve as indication of what bands, any bands, can do to trigger that universal reptilian brain, that reflexive motion up one’s own spine, that tap into something inexplicable when a melody becomes unforgettable. There’s a sugary core of melody, rhythm and impeccable production that renders near any record universal. Animal Collective earned their accolades, not just with MPP but with Sung Tongs (2004) through Strawberry Jam (2007); Ashes is A Sunny Day’s stripes, their first truly great album of scope. If it’s any indication the group’s potential scales enormous.