Why The Animal Collective Radio Album Stream Was Awesome And How It Represents What We've LostBy Luke Winkie
A couple days ago, the Creators Project teamed up with Animal Collective streamed their new album, Centipede Hz, live on their own internet radio station. To a very specific portion of the world, this was a very big deal. This was an unknown, unleaked, and mostly unheard record from a band that always has always seemed to prefer isolation. The messageboard mythology surrounding Animal Collective is on the same bloviating heights as In the Aeroplane Over The Sea, and it’s something worth respecting and laughing about at the same time. Even if you’re neutral about their music, the very temperament of Animal Collective makes sure that an untarnished world premiere of significant new music is going to be an event.
I’ve never cognitively looked forward to an album’s release date in my entire life. I’m of a generation where the actual street date of new music is practically moot. Albums don’t really have a birthday anymore. Pirating know-how is so accessible, we’re actually surprised if music doesn’t get leaked. We wake up every day with dozens of fresh MP3s, and new albums hit promotional pre-release streams with a weirdly unceremonious thud. I have friends who’ve actually gotten too lazy to even pirate, instead waiting the extra couple days after release when a hot new record is comfortably in their Spotify. Music doesn’t arrive anymore, it gently fades into existence.
But last Sunday was different. Here I was, tuned into Centipede Radio, patiently waiting for Geologist to finish his DJ set and play his new album. I was browsing through Twitter #centipedehz searches, and anxious 4Chan /mu threads. Everything was about to happen at the exact same time. It was not tape-delayed Olympic coverage, or regionally-scheduled Breaking Bad episodes, the entirety of the general public did not know what these songs sounded like. We were not divided into time-zones, there was no "play" button; Centipede Hz was about to exist in the world on its own terms. It felt like were all gathered to watch a comet fly by.
The results were hilariously chaotic. As it turns out, if you give a new Animal Collective album to the whole world concurrently, you bottle the entire breadth of the charming, ferocious, and relentlessly caps-locked zeitgeist of the music-first community. It was essentially a 50-minute odyssey of noisy reactions. I honestly could not refresh fast enough. I’m pretty sure it only took about two minutes for someone to say it was the worst Animal Collective album ever, and probably about five minutes for someone to say it was the greatest artistic achievement in the history of mankind (or, at least, since Merriweather). I was not one of the people weaving these ridiculous declarations, but it was a beautiful thing to watch. The pandemonium was arriving in such a visceral way; the whole world was responding to the same thing at the same time. Music-listening is so often a solo endeavor, but this was a perfect example of how wonderful processing a record collectively can be. Something about a legion of anonymous kids welcoming the Panda Bear-sung “Honeycomb” with countless “OH NOAH SING SO SWEETLY 2 ME” is totally compelling.
Obviously, this sort of thing can only happen with certain bands. Animal Collective has the right blend of genius, acclaim, mystery, and divisiveness for a universal live-stream of a new album to catch fire. But honestly, I think their radio experiment tapped a desire I didn’t know I had. As consumers, we’ve forced the industry to concede everything, and music has never been more comprehensively available, but that’s almost destroyed some of the magic of scarcity. It makes me think of the kids that went to midnight releases of, like, Use Your Illusion, or Thriller, and then going home to play those records knowing the rest of the country was doing the exact same thing. Those albums never had the dynamically-updated hullabaloo that cyberspace offered Centipede Hz, which is a shame, because it was a lot of fun. In fact, the nature of the internet makes these united listening experiences almost impossible to manufacture, which feels like a lot of wasted potential. The relief of bided time is a lost art in the music business. We all like consuming endless content, but Animal Collective has shown me that there’s something poetic about patient anticipation, which downloading a copy of Bon Iver three months before its actual street date simply can’t offer. If crossing off calendar spaces towards a concrete release date makes us cherish our music more, then maybe we ought to reconsider the culture we’ve built.
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