Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Friday, June 30, 2017

I Just Submitted This Review of Pink Floyd's Animals to iTunes

After a lifetime of listening to every Floyd album pretty much all the time--they're etched--Animals is the one I can listen to again and again. I mean out of both Syd ones and non-Syd ones, even.

It doesn't hurt that they gigged what turned into "Dogs" and "Sheep" for years before they put them down on vinyl.

For me, Animals is paired with Meddle, which is all about inner space (this one is about social space). Both predate one of the canonical "best" ones (Dark Side and The Wall respectively). Yet both are somehow really amazing, especially in how they show the band as a tight unit that can rock out. "Dogs" is the "Echoes" of this one while "Sheep" is an obvious rhythmical successor to "One of These Days." Both covers feature One Thing and both are greenish. Meddle has dogs and crows and simulated whales.

On Animals we hear Gilmour entering his majestic phase with a widescreen coldness that is also found on his first solo album. Some amazingly strong singing on "Dogs." And that basic arpeggiated seventh chord: fantastic. Likewise on Meddle he's pulling away from Barrett and starts to feel it his way. That parched guitar solo in the middle of "Dogs" where at times it sounds like the guitar is smacking its lips trying to feel some moisture. Which eventually comes in the form of slime (I'll explain in a sec).

And you'd have to go back to live versions of "Embryo" around the time of "Meddle" to find anything like the intensity Waters puts into the pig-harmonica solo in "Pigs."

The musique concrète-like use of recorded sound is done with incredible dexterity, so that it's a whole extra instrumental layer or several. The initial sheep bleats are in tune with the outro of "Pigs."

And possibly this is the best line ever, found in "Sheep": "Wave upon wave of demented avengers marched cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream." I mean, wow.

And I actually love the framing song. It's got that waking up from a dream quality you also find on Meddle, only in this case it's waking up from nightmares, aka the dreams that haunt social space, their phenomenology realized in horrific detail. A shelter from utopias: a utopia within utopia; love it.

But in the end, what remains the most mindblowing on the nth listen is the Rick Wright keyboard work about 2/3 of the way through "Dogs." It's haunting and slightly disgusting and beautiful, unwinding in some sweet spot between nausea and ennui. Melancholic yearning and disgust yet beauty: nice one.

In many ways it's the uncanny double of stuff Wright plays on Wish You Were Here. Rather than wasting away like evaporating mist as on that previous album, the feeling here has more to do with sinking down into the earth, dragged down by the stone, indeed, falling into water, vibrating with intensity. Earth and water: slime. This is an expressionist tune, but in a much more subtle way than anything on The Wall except for "Another Brick in the Wall Part 1," which also features lovely Wright (and/or Wright-like) work.

This part of "Dogs" is central to the overall project. And this is how it goes beyond Meddle, though the basic theme of being in a dream is similar to the strange dream-like (in a bad way) expressionist social space of Animals, in a sort of blurry and less disturbing way. Wright and this section in general really vividly exemplify in scary detail how the animals on Animals live in the uncanny valley between humans and nonhumans, the space of zombies and other abject beings, a kind of mass grave whose invisibility makes the nonhumans (such as the whales and crows on Meddle) look nice and different (so that it's mostly funny in a flat way how the dog howls along to the blues, and whales sound alien; hey maybe the pig-harmonica on "Pigs" is Roger's way of atoning for making the dog do that on "Seamus.") It's good Cooper and evil Cooper. Which is awesome because these are domesticated animals and therefore subject strictly to the uncanny which has to do with home. The full uncanniness of the human "home" and how it becomes the Island of Doctor Moreau aka Nature is exposed on Animals. Yeah. It's an ecological record. Pollution is everywhere, in that ancient Greek sense of miasma, guilt experienced as abject body fluid, moral pollution defining what kinds of beings count in social space.

If you think this tune is all about Gilmour that's not correct. Rick's work is sitting in a Gilmour chord structure for sure. But listen to something like that structure on his solo album from the time and you'll definitely get what I'm saying. It's the Wright slime and the vocoding dogs and humans that make this into something very special.

I know the rest of the band wasn't rating him at the time. Doesn't matter. Just listen to it.

Rick's piercing, pitch-bending, minor-key modulating "Dogs" solo is intertwined with the word "stone" that vocodes into the muffled moaning of the primordial slime, while dogs bark in tune as if rippling in a deserted underwater disco on either side of the stereo image, a sardonic human whistle vainly attempting to bring them to heel. It's a siren, it's that human whistle transformed, it's a funk keyboard rotting away in the compost by the railway line. Bingo.

You can easily compare what Wright does there to what Gilmour does in the very strange part of "Echoes," also about 2/3 in. Gilmour is also piercing, and vocal-sounding.

PS: When people who have never been to the UK ask me where I'm from, I say I grew up on the cover of Animals. Which is geographically and psychologically and aesthetically (always loved that building) pretty accurate as it goes. I grew up in a haunting postindustrial landscape where prehistoric ferns grew among tens of railway tracks surmounted by brilliant arc lights where birds nested and sang in the dead of night, because for them it was day. A couple of miles, give or take, from Battersea Power Station. Some of that technologically mediated melancholia can be heard in early drum and bass, where the use of sirens is quite Rick Wright-ish. My fried Heitham and I talk about growing up in this region all the time.

This actually explains a lot about my stance on ecological things.

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