Review Summary: It's real nice.
Animal Collective is truly a band full of surprises. Their unpredictable progression of albums over the past decade or so runs somewhat like a runaway freight train, careening off the tracks into the acoustic jams of 2004’s Sung Tongs, the thick layers of atmospheric freak-folk on 2005’s Feels, and most recently on to the erratic pop of 2007’s Strawberry Jam. Animal Collective have a way of keeping even their most dedicated of fans wondering about what new surprises will await them on their next album. Strangely enough, their timeline feels completely organic, despite what may sound like a disjointed stream of unrelated albums. By the time each new record rolls around, listeners find themselves with what is so clearly the next logical step in the band’s progression. With Strawberry Jam, Animal Collective found themselves in their most accessible era. Though the album was filled with great track after great track, it seemed at times a little too polished and disjointed to be the same band that brought us the experimental classics earlier in the decade.
So here we are now, on the brink of the release of Animal Collective’s 9th studio album, Merriweather Post Pavilion. The hype surrounding this release has been of epic proportions, with live videos of the songs circulating the web dating back even further than the release of Strawberry Jam. These videos have been extremely well received by fans, who have acclaimed the songwriting and high energy of the performances, but the real question is: are the studio versions of the tracks as good as the live ones? I think we can safely say yes.
From the opening noise of “In the Flowers,” it’s clear that Animal Collective have gone beyond just the next logical progression. It seems as though they have taken the various elements that have made their past eight albums so brilliant, dumped them together and molded them into these songs. They’ve taken the noise experiments of albums like” Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished,” mixed in the atmospheric qualities of Feels or Campfire Songs, and finally added on the accessibility that showed up on Strawberry Jam.
Avey Tare and Panda Bear, the two singer/songwriters of the band, are both at the top of their game. They seem to have finally mastered the art of dual vocals that have eluded them for the past few albums. Feels had next to no vocals by Panda, and on Strawberry Jam, Avey’s and Panda’s songs felt very separate, which is part of what made that album feel incohesive. On Merriweather Post Pavilion, it seems they’ve finally found that perfect mix that lets them sing on each others songs without stealing the spotlight. On “My Girls,” for example, Panda Bear is the primary singer, but Avey comes in to harmonize and sing the verses as a round, giving the song a much more full feeling.
Though “In the Flowers” and “My Girls” both serve as early standouts, the album is not at all top-heavy. Every Track here has something to add. “Summertime Clothes” is one of the catchiest songs the band has ever done, built around a thumping bass and danceable beat. Lyrically, the song is a gem as well. It’s told from the perspective a guy who leaves in the middle of the night to go walk around the city with his lover. The underwater sounding “Bluish” is another great song that showcases the skills of the band’s electronics-wizard, Geologist. It opens with underwater sounds that make the song feel as if its floating by serenely while Avey Tare croons “I’m getting lost in your curls.” A late standout is “Lion in a Coma” which actually utilizes a didgederoo as the backbone of the song, set behind an offbeat time and the weird but wonderful lyrics of Avey. (“my nervous tick has capped a lip, my cheeks are chewed down to the bit”)
The album certainly goes out with a bang too, with album closer “Brothersport,” a track that’s sure to become a fan favorite. It opens with Panda Bear’s vocals over a few scattered notes and soon explodes into full tropicalia-esque dance music. What makes this song work so well is the simplicity in the songwriting, which makes it nothing less than just a fun listen.
As hesitant as I am to give a 5/5 to such a new album, I just can’t seem to find any real problems on it. It’s got a unique atmosphere, the songwriting is spot-on, and its really just a fun listen. Though it’s hard to predict, it may be that Animal Collective has released what will go down as their classic album. I can only wonder what they will do next.