Things to Do

Why Animal Collective Debuted Their New Record at BWI

The band streamed Painting With for 24 straight hours at the airport before Thanksgiving.

Photo by Hisham Akira Bharoocha/Abby Portner.

Last Wednesday, the music publication Stereogum reported that Baltimore indie rock group Animal Collective was debuting its new record in a most unlikely format: over the speakers at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The band streamed Painting With, which will be officially released on February 19 via Domino, through Towson University’s WTMD station for 24 straight hours between Tuesday and Wednesday night before Thanksgiving—one of the busiest travel stretches of the year.

“The record had been playing for almost 24 hours and nobody had noticed it yet,” says Animal Collective’s Brian Weitz, better known as Geologist. “Six or seven people had Shazammed it, but nobody cared.”

The sleepy response was surprising, considering Animal Collective’s music is difficult to ignore. The band did gain some crossover success on the strength of their pop-embracing 2009 record Merriweather Post Pavilion, but their songs are still brash and unmistakable, full of strange time signatures, primal vocal shrieks, and noisy synthesizers.

Regardless, the delayed reception was all part of the master plan. Weitz says the band had kicked around the idea back in July of rolling out the album in a shopping mall, where it’d be fighting for attention amidst the din of everyday life. “We talked about like, “‘what if we had just been in the mall in the ’90s and the new Pavement record started playing,'” he says. “And you didn’t really know what it was and you were like, ‘is this a new Pavement record?'”

The band reached out to childhood hangout spots like the Owings Mills Mall and West Village Commons at Towson, but got no response back. Weitz then suggested BWI—where his father and brother also work—where speakers are frequently tuned to WTMD, a local-music champion. “I remember one time I was changing one of my kid’s diapers in the family restroom and I was like ‘is this a Beach House song?'” says Weitz. “We sort of asked the radio station like, ‘would it be cool if you just [played] our record on loop?'”

WTMD loved the idea immediately, jumping at the opportunity to host this extremely rare, Baltimore-centric event. “Indie music fans were a little jealous that they weren’t traveling through BWI to be there for it,” says Sam Sessa, the station’s Baltimore music coordinator. “Overall, people were just blown away by the idea that this was something you could even do. Airports don’t usually do this sort of thing.”

After Stereogum caught wind of the premiere at 2 PM, four hours before the loop was due to end, nearby fans drove to the airport to camp out in the pre-security area to hear the stream. Still, by the time the band made a more official album announcement a few days later for Painting With, the whole event was a part of the ephemeral past. But at least a few people got something out of the experience.

“When I told my brother we were going to [play the record] he was like ‘that would be so sweet,'” says Weitz. “‘I hear the same music all the time.'”