Animal Hospital Memory

[Barge; 2009]

Discussing his latest album, Boston native Kevin Micka, a.k.a. Animal Hospital, seems well aware of music’s uncanny ability to engage the imagination, to interact with the listener’s individual life experience and memory. Primarily, Micka hopes the listener will develop a personal connection to his songs and will “project their own meanings into the music.” While at first these goals may seem commonplace, even clichéd, they nonetheless hint at some of the more profound and complex ways in which we appreciate music in general. Indeed, there is something magical about how certain abstract elements, such as a combination of guitar tones and notes, can cause us to reflect upon specific and meaningful moments of our past.

On Memory, Micka achieves his goals by utilizing an array of digital effects and loops to create largely instrumental guitar-based compositions. Considering the methods used here, comparisons can easily be made to prominent post-rock groups such as Mogwai and Tortoise, especially on the album’s more rhythmic tracks. At the same time, with its emphasis on expansive textures and swells, subtle melodies, and spacious production values, Memory fits alongside the work of more ambient-focused artists as well. While embracing these latter elements, Micka maintains a refreshingly simple and distinct quality with his guitar work. He proves that it’s still possible to create complex, layered soundscapes without making your six-string sounding like a synthesizer.

Aside from some excellent cello work courtesy of Jonah Sacks, Micka is indeed responsible for all the instrumentation for Animal Hospital, both on record and in a live setting. In a field where the right combination of effects pedals has made this type of one-man showmanship possible, Micka separates himself through the relative complexity of his songs. On moments such as the dramatic build-up of chugging power chords on “His Belly Burst” or the choral washes and swells of “Memory,” the results are truly breathtaking.

“...and ever” is another track that seems to be garnering a lot of attention and praise as of late. Undoubtedly, the song showcases Micka’s mastery over the loop pedal as an instrument in and of itself. His ability to accurately recreate the song live is actually quite astounding (a live video can be seen on the Barge Recordings website). However, with its blazing, fuzzed-out guitar riffs, driving rhythm section, and lyrical wails, the song is an anomaly compared to the rest of the album. Admittedly, such variation between songs is not necessarily a bad thing. However the track’s length and position certainly make it a focal point of the album and, as a result, the nature of the track makes it hard to walk away from Memory with a cohesive picture in mind.

That being said, Memory is still full of heart-wrenching, beautiful moments that certainly cannot be discounted. In our current musical climate, where the phrase “post-rock” is enough to send many running for the hills, Animal Hospital proves how effective and powerful sprawling guitar-centered instrumentals can still be. And through the combination of its reflective and introspective qualities, the album evokes an emotional weight that demands attention.

1. Good Times
2. His Belly Burst
3. 2nd Anniversary
4. ...and ever
5. A Safe Place
6. Nostalgia
7. Memory

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