Studies in Criticism: Professional Basketball Player Paul Shirley on Merriwether Post Pavilion


Paul Shirley, professional basketball player, music critic:

    Try as I might, I can’t tell much about an album during its first playback. With that in mind,I thought it would be fun to journal my efforts to grasp something new. First, though, I needed an album I thought would be worth my time. Animal Collective’s new disc, “Merriwether Post Pavilion” (MPP from here) fit the bill. Based on my affection for their 2007 release, “Strawberry Jam,” I was excited about the prospect of new material. Once that hurdle was cleared, I needed only $12 to buy the CD, a little time and a lot of patience…

Listen 1: I kind of like that one song.

    I had purposely avoided listening to anything Animal Collective-related before digging in. So there was no “Wonderwall” waiting for me. It was all new, which is why my notes on that first listen are sparse and nearly unintelligible.

Song 1: “Woof.” Song 2: “Eudora kids — Skateboards and guns. I like.” Song 3: “Fourth-grade chorus — all sopranos.” Song 4. (blank) Song 5. “Eighties.” Songs 6-11: “All same.”

I had known I was going to struggle through the first listen, but that didn’t stop me from being disappointed. I could tell I would eventually like the second song. That was the end of the good news. The first song sounded awful — hence the “Woof” comment. The third song sounded like it was being performed by a squadron of eunuchs banging on cymbals, except I wasn’t that creative when I made notes — hence the fourth-grade chorus comment. From there, I couldn’t discern much.

(Side note: I wrote “skateboards and guns” because I was driving through the town of Eudora, Kan., at the time and saw two groups of kids — one with skateboards, one with rifles. It was an interesting contrast, but it had nothing to do with Animal Collective.)

Listens 2 and 3: This is the worst album I’ve ever heard.

The last person I know of to be this honest about the music crit process:

    Needless to say, whether you care how I rate something is up to you. But let me suggest some possible reasons. The Consumer Guide has lasted so long because many people do find it useful–record buyers who learn to correct for my taste and exploit my judgment, critics and the like who find that I generally stuff a lot of ideas and observations into these little reviews, and members of both classes who know that at the very least I’m so hype-resistant that my opinions are actually my opinions without being willfully idiosyncratic. For a critic, I have mainstream tastes in a wide variety of genres, which is not to say I’m devoid of prejudices [*see below]. I like hip-hop and what I still call alt-rock and lots of “world” genres and some country and some folk and definitely some pop; I don’t assume that major labels are good or evil; I think some artists peak over 50 and others should retire. My biggest gift is my appetite–I generally have a record on 12 to 18 hours a day. Rarely do I give anything an A without having passed it through my mind-body continuum at least five times (usually more); even Honorable Mentions get three to five (often more). But my second biggest gift is that I know what I think. I don’t write about something till I’m pretty sure how much I like it, and I’m skilled at recognizing when that is.

[Via The Daily Swarm]