The-Dream - “Fancy”
Animal Collective - “M’girlz” (you are reading a Tumblr, hence you’ve already heard it, but here, have a YouTube.)
Put these two songs next to each other and they speak to one another. “I only need four walls,” says Animal Collective. “Look at where she’s been, though, you can see why she wants something fancier,” says The-Dream. “But I will provide for my family to the best of my ability,” says Animal Collective. “That might not cut it,” says The-Dream. “She’s only 23 but ahead of her time.” How old are your girls, like 2? Let’s see how they like growing up with adobe slabs/slats/slubs/slobs, and maybe when they’re 23 they’ll want to live fancy.
But Dream, you’re an enabler, you say so yourself. Material obsession begets more obsession. Yeah, but AnCo, you’re just not being realistic about this. I mean, do you want your girls to have health insurance? My girl didn’t. That shit is expensive. You know what a mortgage on an adobe hut in Brooklyn goes for these days? You can avoid the freshest of the waves all you want, but you still have to catch a wave. The gap between comfort and poverty isn’t exactly shrinking in the past ten years. You grow up harder, you want more. You’ll do more to escape it, and when you do escape it you’ll basically be in the stratosphere. The broad middle class that your dad raised you in, the legacy of his life of hard work, and his father’s, has crumbled over the course of your life. Your dad’s myth is kaput, it’s a new world, and I’ll choose to live in that world.
Now let’s talk sonics: both start in a wash, maybe opening on the shore somewhere, Dream in 35mm and Animal Collective in HD video that, I mean, yeah, it looks fine, I guess. A little weird the way the whites blow out, and where film smooths features over HDV gives them an odd over-emphasis. AnCo sequence a major chord in the pseudo Philip Glass stylee and sing their melody modally, The-Dream does his two-chord limbo (an F minor seventh chord, then an F-sharp major seventh) suggesting two keys that the song never settles on. (Try it at home kids, alternate back and forth between your left hand hitting an F, and your right hand hitting the C and E-flat, then your left hand on F-sharp, right hand on C-sharp and F. You’ll notice that if you added the minor third in the Fmin7 that Dream drops but drop the root F in your left hand, and add the major third in the F-sharp maj6 that Dream drops and drop the F-sharp in your left hand, you will be playing the opposite chord pattern — major-minor-major instead of minor(7)-major(7)-minor(7).)
So already we pinpoint where The-Dream has me from go and The-AnCo lose me: Dream is doing modal jazz and Animal Collective is doing modal Glass. I am an on-the-record “deedly doo, deedly doo, deedly doo” Glass soundtrack hater, and this reminds me of that.
Next step, the vocals — well, I mean, you can understand Dream’s lyrics for one thing, and written out they tell a fascinating, well-detailed dream montage: we open on her climbing up his big-ass bed through the sheets singing to him, “come to me,” she says “yes baby,” she’s a dream (deedly-dee, deedly-dee (that’s Wayne’s World, not Koyaanisqatsi), dream
wipe dissolve!) oh shit, now we’re in her past, making her way from nothing. Her recent past — loves men that can afford, montage of her various beau ballers. And there’s a-dream element here, she’s at parties, there may or may not be a monocle somewhere. Now we’re on a yacht. Now we’re in Paris (cue concertina). Some exposition. Some myth-making (she’s Helen of Troy).
And now it’s an op-ed: can’t fault her for wanting something. It’s Dream’s fault, it’s society’s fault, she’s a stand-in for a type (“she’s a girl you know”). And without changing that modal pattern, we have strings, we have the hint of a beat, just the cymbals, we have voices and voices, some higher (Dream’s alto, not his falsetto), the occasional “eyyyyy!”
It threatens to tip over at 4:31, a piano glissando suggests the roof blowing off but it goes back down to a simmer, Dream still playing us for another minute (the minute longer than “My Girls” is?) in order to make sure we pay attention: “she’s deserving. She’s deserving.” (So are AnCo’s girls! Just not of Gucci, which I think count as a fresh wave. What about a fresh weave?). OK, the rev up again. They say you can’t buy love, they lyin’. (Are you listening, Panda?) New York apartment to JFK — have you made that drive, guys? Will yer girls have to?
And wait, what the fuck, was that the BEAT I just heard at 6:20 out of 6:30? That is audacious, Dream. We were hanging on, listening, because we figured there’d be a build up, and you just slip it right in the middle of a verse! Dream goes over the top, fuck you I can have everything, I do have everything. And as a parting shot, he reminds us, he was fancy when he was rockin’ Polo. Fancy is a state of mind.
But so is asceticism, right? I mean, if you can be in a fancy state o’ mind, you can be in a down-to-earth-and-responsible state of mind, right? Well, sort of. It’s a lot easier to fake “up” than fake “down” — I mean, the real responsibilities of raising a safe family (in New York City?) have a lot more to do with sitting down and getting your finances sorted out — accepting what small concessions you might make to your ideals — yes, fine, let’s invest in something, I guess — than having your life philosophy, and the mere hopes and dreams for your family, sorted out. The-Dream is saying exactly what Animal Collective can’t understand (firsthand, anyway) because they didn’t grow up thinking “up.” People who come from nothing don’t find anything noble about it, thank you very much, and far from wanting to instill those values of hard work for modest reward, they just. Want. Out. And Dream ultimately sides with her. Fancy was his whole life, even when his life was the dream of fancy, which is what this song is. You know who doesn’t live fancy? People who can take it for granted that being fancy isn’t the most important thing in the world. The-Dream needs the freshest waves, the most material materials, and what’s more he needs to give that to someone so that she’ll get out, too. He doesn’t want that hard life back, and he sure as hell isn’t going to fault her for not wanting it back, or in not thinking there’s something righteous in denying the world falling into your lap.
So back to “M’Girls.” What’s funny is that when their beat comes in (at c. 3:20 out of 5:40), it sounds similar to the 10 seconds of The-Dream’s beat: BOOM-BOOM-BOOM, clap-clap. ‘Course AnCo buries that beat and good, letting that fucking sequencer hammer above everything. They break the limbo for the chorus, making it a basic doo-wop progression slightly Glass’d up (think a more pretentious “Heart and Soul” —
D E minor replaces the A minor, then replaces the G major. And yes, they sat down and plunked that shit out in C MAJOR, folks, so it very well may have started life as “Heart and Soul”!). [EDIT: I’m wrong here — it’s an E minor chord, but it does feel like a doo-wop pattern variation: C-Em-F-G would be a standard doo-wop as well, AnCo actually do C-Em-C6-Em, because they’re playing a first-inversion C major chord and just lowering one note for each chord — C-G-E, B-G-E, A-G-E, B-G-E…practice room pop!!!!] Feels like cheating after The-Dream’s refusal to give in to the tension — the “My Girls” chorus sticks out like a, uh, sore chorus? And afterward the sequencing takes some liberties to float around the melody instead of rigidly defining the mode.
What does this tell me? It tells me that Animal Collective is all talk! They want the pie in the sky, provided it’s not, y’know, the latest Louis Vuitton pie in the sky, but still a decent, solid sort of pie, but they gaze at it with this gooey, goggle-eyed wonder while The-Dream rolls his eyes and SNATCHES THAT SHIT UP. While they tinker around with different ways to do variations on pretty much the oldest pop move in the book (seriously, sing “Heart and Soul” over the chorus — won’t sync perfectly because they covered their Paw Tracks a-hyuck) The-Dream is going back to modal jazz, locking down his simple chord pattern and really experimenting — melodically, rhythmically, and narratively. Where Animal Collective are content to repeat the little bits of hook they can eke out until you’re totally sure you’ve got it (wait, are you totally sure you’ve got it?) The-Dream flits from one hook to the next, all comfortably housed (pun intended?) in the sturdiest baseline for improvisation you’ll find, and leaves AnCo in the dust, which makes ‘em 0 for 3 here in pop, experimentation, and story. TKO!
And shit, maybe “My Girls” is a 6.5 after all.
EDIT: Eh, I’m overplaying the “Heart and Soul” comparison, I think I got a chord wrong in there. Its being a trumped-up “basic pop playbook move” stands though.
Oh hey, this is one of the best things I’ve ever written, sort of. Needed a rewrite. I botched the musical analysis of “My Girls” on first pass, and it is SO MUCH MORE ANNOYING when I figured out that this dude probably just sat at a piano pounding out a C major chord until he was “inspired.”