I Tried to Write a Music Review and All I Got was an Existential Crisis

By Michaela Heidemann

Animal Collective was the band someone listened to in high school if they were really, really alt. This was the type that went to seedy concert venues in the city and made music entirely on a macbook. This was the person who took AP Human Geography for fun. They were really weird, but you know, the cool kind of weird. Or so they thought anyway. And while it was a hit with annoying 17 year old nerds, critics also lauded the band, considering Animal Collective’s music from 2000-2010 groundbreaking. It was as cacophonous as it was melodic, as rough as it was meticulously produced. The lyrics were strange and cryptic but settled down into your gut, making you unable to stop thinking about them for days afterward. Much of the psychedelic electronica and chillwave music being made today owe a lot to Animal Collective.


That being said, I don’t listen to them much anymore. Or at least, I haven’t kept up with much of what they released after their Fall Be Kind EP in 2010. I stopped listening without much thought or notice, as one tends to do when a band’s relevancy dwindles with each new group and genre that succeeds it. Still, I continue to be a fan – just not a very good one. Recently, I feel like I woke up one day and Animal Collective was not just irrelevant, but decidedly uncool. They became the band you listened to in high school/college. I never thought that would happen to me! And it’s not that Animal Collective’s weird schtick hasn’t always been the target of a lot of jaded snark. It was, even when they were popular. But – as much as it pains me to say – it’s verges on embarrassing to be a fan nowadays. Their music is just too earnest in its weirdness, especially by today’s derisive standards.


With this in mind, as a sort of control, I decided to invite a friend completely new to Animal Collective to listen to the album with me to get some outside perspective.


A little background on the guy: His name is Jason and he’s a 25 year old improviser/pug enthusiast. His musical tastes tend to stay in the realm of Billboard 100, but he’s recently gotten into pop punk as well. He’s never heard Animal Collective’s music before and he predicts that they’ll sound angry. Considering all of this, I’m very interested to hear what Jason thinks…





Jason and his new best friend

Here are the highlights of our transcribed experience:


Painting With by Animal Collective


Track 1: Floridada


We weren’t recording here so I’ll paraphrase. Jason felt it was very complicated, something he stated several times. I thought it sounded like Animal Collective was composing for a Disney movie.


Track 2: Hocus Pocus


Michaela. “Yeah sometime you’ll have to listen to their stuff before… before they got bad.”


Jason. “Back to back these songs are SUPER complicated. I don’t get it. It’s like listening to an Ok-Go music video.”

Michaela. “Oh my God. [laughs] That is what it sounds like… Man. I don’t wanna listen to this. But we have to!”

Jason. “We can change bands. We’re only on the second song.”


After a short amount of hemming and hawing about journalistic integrity or some shit, I got up and turned off the music. This was a turning point for me as a human being because it was when I realized that I’ll never be a music critic. I don’t have the patience for it, nor do I have any sort of actual authority or expertise on the subject for that matter. I fumbled around on Spotify thinking, “Well if I’m making Jason sit down and listen to an album he’s never heard it may as well be a good one.” I needed something that everyone should know, like To Kill a Mockingbird or Mean Girls. This was a golden opportunity to hold someone prisoner with politeness and obligation and force them to listen to something I love. Then Jason said, “I’ve never heard Dark Side of the Moon before,” and it felt like fate.


Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd


Track 1: Speak to Me | Breathe

Jason. “Was there a, um, political context behind this album?”

Michaela. “No, not really, there was-”

Jason. “When did it come out?”

Michaela. “1972 I think.” [ed. note: it was 1973]

Jason. “So we’d just gone to the moon.”

Michaela. “Yeah, oh yeah people were wigging out about space stuff. Um, but no this one was- wait a minute. Fuck. No. [the track Time starts to play] What? Oh.”

Jason. “Did you have it on shuffle?”

Michaela. “Yeah dangit. I’m doing really bad at this.”

Jason. “You got this.”


Track 2: On the Run

Jason. “Aren’t you supposed to listen to this backwards?”

Michaela. “No.”


Jason. “I feel like this is an important event in my life.”


Jason. “This is kind of creepy.”

Michaela. “Yeah a lot of their stuff is really creepy.”  


Jason. “Do you believe in conspiracy theories?”


Track 3: Time

Michaela. “Whoa, yes this one of my favorite songs.”

Jason. “I immediately got anxiety when I heard that bell ringing. Like I was late for something.”


[I start coughing]

Jason. “Are you okay?”

[cough cough]

Jason. “Are you choking on a pizza roll?”

[cough cough cough hack]


Michaela. “You know what this song is about? It means time keeps going and we’re gonna die one day.”

Jason. “That was dark. That was uh not like that Animal Collective.”


Track 4: The Great Gig in the Sky

[Our friend Panda- real name Matt- enters. I know it’s ironic given we’d talked about Animal Collective but the two are not in any way connected.]


Panda. “Are those pizza rolls?”


Jason. “You know what this reminds me of? Jesus Christ Superstar.”


Jason. “This is great.”

Michaela. “What?”

Jason. “I haven’t heard an actual word here for a while. It’s like an aria.”


Michaela. “This one is called the Great Gig in the Sky.”

Jason. “It’s like where gigs go when they’re dead.”


Track 5: Money

Michaela. “This is my least favorite song of theirs.”

Jason. “It’s got a funky bassline. I think I’ve heard this song before.”


Track 6: Us and Them

Michaela. “You [Jason] actually have to listen to it… and talk about it.”

Panda. “Have you never heard pink floyd?”

Jason. “I’ve heard Pink Floyd I’ve never heard dark side of the moon.”

Panda. “Any of them?”

Jason. “No.”

Panda. “Really?”

Jason. “Not consciously. Maybe I’ve heard it but no one was like, “‘Hey everyone listen up this is a song from Dark Side of the Moon!’”

Panda. “You make that sound like it’s-”

Jason. “No, no someone would totally say, “‘Shh shh guys this is my favorite song from Dark Side of the Moon.’”

Panda. “They probably wouldn’t say that.”


Michaela. “This is the kind of song I would listen to when I was fifteen and look out the car window and be like, “‘I’m gonna be something someday.’”


Michaela. “They’re so going to regret including me on this project.” [sound of wine being poured]

Jason. “Joke’s on you guys!”



Jason. “It sounds like I’m on a spaceship if I can be perfectly honest.”

Michaela. “No that’s good that’s great! That’s what they wanted!”

Jason. “Is that what they wanted?”

Michaela. “That’s what they wanted!”

Jason. “They succeeded.”


Track 7: Any Color You Like

Michaela. “This is AMAZING! And I hated this song when I was fifteen. I really did.”

Jason. “When you thought you were going to be somebody.”

Michaela. “Yeah… hehehehehe.”


Track 8: Brain Damage

Michaela. “Guys, guys! This is the end of the album.”

Panda. “Oh.”

Jason. “That’s what they called “‘brokered conventions.’”

Michaela. “LISTEN! LISTEN!”


Track 10: Eclipse

Michaela. “This is the end!”


Jason. “This is like the song where like heaven opens up, you know what I’m talking” about?


Michaela. “This song used to give me existential dread.”


Jason. “Does it ever freak you out that there’s gonna come a time where no one will think about you?”


[Album ends]

Jason. “Eventually, there’ll be no one on this earth that cares about Jason Ronje.”



[Panda puts on the Blood Brothers]

Michaela. “So, Jason, what did you think- what did you think of Animal Collective’s Painting With?”


Michaela. “…Cool.” [Opens box of cereal, grabs handful]

Jason. “No, it was too complicated.”

Michaela. “It was too complicated?”

Jason. “Way too complicated.”

Michaela. “Or it wasn’t well produced, it was a lot of stuff on top of each other, right? Is that what you mean?” [munching sounds]

Jason. “Yeah, it sounded like someone found a bunch of sound effects on garage band and threw it on an album.”

Michaela. “What?”

Panda. “What?”

Michaela. “I can tell you think whatever I just said was really dumb.” [munch munch munch]

Panda. “No, I just like- are you recording? Are you performing or having a conversation?”

Michaela. “Well, yeah I really am asking him these questions.”

Panda. “It sounds…kind of…staged.”

Michaela. “Well I mean some of it is kind of staged.”

Panda. “It’s just like, it’s radio talk.”

Michaela. “But that’s what I’m trying to do Panda.”

Panda. [laughing hysterically] “I CAN’T BELIEVE ANYTHING YOU’RE SAYING!”

Jason. “Look, 9/11 was perpetrated by the government, that’s all I know!”

Panda. “Now you’re talking!”


The Takeaway:

This was the message that our editor, Paige, sent me about she read my first draft.

This was the message that our editor, Paige, sent me about she read my first draft.

Either you die the Beatles or you live long enough to become another sad reminder that a good thing is not forever. It happened to Pink Floyd too. It feels weirdly apt that after giving up on Painting With, we listened to an album that muses on the inevitability of time and mortality. I guess if I had to take away anything from this experience, it’s that I’m not a music critic and I’m pretty alright with that.
If listening to Dark Side of the Moon has taught me anything, it’s that I’m gonna die someday and I don’t have enough time to be listening to Painting With. If Painting With has taught me anything it’s, God help me, I’m starting to feel my age.