Review Summary: The fans call for a religious experience; the collective attempts to churn out a Jesus.
Funny. I was in my school’s cafeteria one day – one of those days when you’re really hungry and will eat practically anything served in front of your face. They were serving stew and biscuits on this particular day; the stew looked decent enough, but the biscuits looked absolutely heavenly. I asked the lunch lady for a biscuit. Her response: “Sorry, honey, biscuits come with stew.” “OK, I’ll take the stew.” “Nope. You won’t eat it. You just want a biscuit.” I convinced her to give a serving of stew, promising her I would indeed eat it. She sent a truly unhealthy amount of beef stew splattering across my plate and with a sarcastic sneer asked, “Now would you like a biscuit with that, honey?” I found that funny – not a laughing type of funny, but a weird kind of funny, the kind that’s truly memorable. A lot of things are funny like that. The way music that you didn’t really like at first later clicks in a huge way is funny. Records like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
, Wish You Were Here
, and Endtroducing…
were all similar experiences for me: they were cool, had some scattered moments here or there, and then suddenly upon a return visit took a new, glorious shape that left speechless. Funny. I posted this review a week ago, against the rules, which was a funny thing to do, and one of the sentences in the original review said:
"My favorite Animal Collective disc has always been 2005’s Feels, and probably always will be."
Either I lied in the original review, or Merriweather Post Pavilion
just clicked. Funny stuff, huh?
Initially, I spent the first paragraph of this review making fun of fanboys, even going so far as forging a ridiculous (and not
funny, I may add) fan letter addressed to Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt. I then drew negative parallels between prog metal’s rabid posterboys of fanboy-ism and fans of experimental indie group Animal Collective, ending by stating:
"If in Merriweather Post Pavilion you are looking for a life-changing experience tantamount to developing superhuman qualities, you will be deeply disappointed, I’m sorry to say. However, if your expectations are not so high as the above absurdities, prepare to be rewarded, because the album is indeed a fine one."
I’ll hold true to the notion that the collective’s eight studio LP will unfortunately not aid you in developing superhuman qualities, but upon several listens, you may very well feel that such notions are far from ‘absurdities,’ but closer to a reality. Merriweather Post Pavilion
may not be as life-changing or classic as OK Computer
or any of the other albums I “clicked” with, but it’s damn close.
’ unique sound, ranging from bursts of gleeful indie madness to minimal drones of subdued beauty, soaked in a magnificent coat of Oriental influence, and coupled with consistently love-themed lyrics, made a nearly flawless album capable of carving a grin on the most lonely listener. The group’s subsequent record, Strawberry Jam
, took the freak-folk campfire sound heard on Feels
and morphed it into a sprawling explosion of electronic samples, beats, and drones. Strawberry Jam
was a good album with some definite highlights (Avey’s screams on “For Reverend Green,” among others), but it lacked the cohesion and focus of Feels
. Now, two years after their last full length LP, where does Animal Collective’s sound lie?
Merriweather Post Pavilion
begins with a churning ambience reminiscent of a washing machine at work, and over distant chirping sounds, handclaps, and a fragile tune Avey begins to softly sing. We are in a forest. “If I could just leave my body for the night…” he wonders – or perhaps declares – and then suddenly “In the Flowers” erupts. We are still in a forest, but the moon has risen, the wind is wildly rocking the trees from side to side, and there is a feeling of absolute euphoria all around as if a flock of birds is flying around the listener, lifting the listener into the clouds. “In the Flowers,” the album’s triumphant opener, shows that the trio plans to merge the atmosphere of Feels
with the electronic experimentalism of Strawberry Jam
. And the collective succeeds in mixing these two quite different approaches, resulting in a more focused outcome that is at once accessible and poppy while retaining the collective’s avant-garde weirdness.
Cohesion is key to the collective’s eighth studio LP. The natural ambience that dominates the first half of “In the Flowers” returns at the song’s end and leads us with a breeze of wind into the album’s second track, “My Girls,” a delightfully poppy song trickling with synthesizers and deep techno thuds. The melodies are fun and warm and practically invite you to sing along – it’s a glorious, magnificent take on 60’s pop music, and it grows into this from ambient sounds not unlike what one would hear in their own backyard on a quiet and pleasant night. And even once “My Girls” has grown into its powerhouse of pop, it shrinks back into its ambient shell and with what sounds like the dripping of a faint rain into a pond the album flows into “Also Frightened.” It takes a few tracks for the listener to realize, but Animal Collective has created a set structure for this album: ambience expands into a song, song dissolves piecemeal into ambience, ambience leads into the next track and the cycle continues. A fresh approach, I think, and one that makes the album seem more listenable, cohesive, and wonderful. Yet even with this formula, Merriweather Post Pavilion
The placement of songs is another breath of fresh air. Despite its brilliance, Feels
’ one flaw to some listeners was that it started with several upbeat, layered songs and then around the middle of the record underwent a shift into the realm of minimalism that went unchanged until the last track. Strawberry Jam
improved on this flaw (if a flaw is what you call it – I don’t), but Merriweather Post Pavilion
avoids the controversy altogether by mixing structured songs and experimental romps throughout the album’s entirety. “Also Frightened,” “Daily Routine,” and “No More Runnin’,” some of the record’s more bizarre cuts, are intermingled with such memorable songs as “Summertime Clothes,” “Bluish,” and “Brothersport,” the album’s lauded closing track – a full-on reggae-inspired rave. The album also has interesting combinations of both styles, such as the half piano-driven, half droning venture into shoegaze of “Guys Eyes,” the vaudevillian acid-rock of “Taste,” and the eccentric, bouncy “Lion in a Coma.” A weird set of tracks made even weirder by their placement amongst each other. It’s a bold move by the New York-based collective, but it works.
Lyrically, Animal Collective writes of more adult issues, such as the simple desire of an individual to provide a nice home for his daughter and wife in “My Girls.” It’s a more grown-up record with more grown-up lyrics and it works well with the structure of the album. Perhaps these kids have grown up after all their musings on childhood on previous records. Indeed, Strawberry Jam
hinted at the band’s maturity and acceptance of adult responsibilities through the record’s more focused lyrics, but Merriweather Post Pavilion
shows a building what Strawberry Jam
began laying out the groundwork for. I realize that I never went into great detail about the individual songs and their strengths and weaknesses, and, to be honest, I think it’s best not to. There’s something worth hearing in every track. Animal Collective has given us a set of eleven perfectly crafted songs – the band’s longest outing since their debut. “No More Runnin’,” for example, may seem a bit like filler at first, but it may be one of the record’s most beautiful, simplistic tracks recalling the atmosphere of Feels
. But I won't spoil the record for you; the blissful harmonies of "Summertime Clothes" and "My Girls," the rave-romp of "Brothersport," the euphoria of "In the Flowers"...it's all there waiting for you, packaged in one of the decade's best musical expeditions.
So, is Merriweather Post Pavilion
a masterpiece? In a nutshell: yes. I’ve always tried to remain unbiased when it comes to reviews, and I’ve also always enjoyed this group’s music, but never hailed anything of theirs as timeless. This is. The hype is justified. Animal Collective has given listeners the first great album of 2009. Don’t try too hard to fly like Superman and you may very well fall in love with this album. You’re certainly capable of it.