Review Summary: Animal Collective's latest effort manages to be their most accessible yet, while still maintaining the originality and all-around trippy-ness that has become synonymous with the group. (9.5/10)
Animal Collective have become notorious for being seemingly impossible to classify into a particular genre over the years. Are they freak folk? Are they noise rock? How about neo-psychedelic pop? Well, with their latest effort, Merriweather Post Pavilion, the Brooklyn threesome (no usual guitarist/noisemaker Deakin this time around) certainly doesn’t make them any easier to label. With the musical landscape in the condition it’s in (where “evolving” is used far too freely), it’s definitely refreshing to see a band that is fully willing to test just what it means to be “musicians”.
A quick warning to anyone who looks at the above score and finds it imperative to check out the record instantly: if you are not familiar with Animal Collective (or you’re fanship only consists of finding “For Reverend Green” or “Peacebone” killer tracks), then it may take a little while for this record to grow on you. Once it does, though, it becomes apparent that this is one of those elusive, rare records that only get better the more you listen to it. One of the biggest reasons for this is that there are simply so many damn things going on in each song that appreciating all of the sonic details Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist (David Portner, Noah Lennox, and Brian Weitz, respectively) put in necessitate multiple listens.
Take, for example, opener “In the Flowers”, which starts off with a barrage of atmospheric sounds, only to be cut into by a tense, echoing arpeggiated chord progression, some handclaps (joy!) and Avey Tare’s droning vocals about meeting “a dancer/ Who was high in a field” suddenly dropping in over it all. Just when you think that the bliss couldn’t top itself, around two minutes in, just as Portner hopes that he “could just leave his body for the night”, the song does the same, as it explodes out of nowhere into a booming mixture of stomping drums, blaring synths, and glitch noises that take the song to a whole new level.
“In the Flowers” is followed by what will probably become the most universally-loved song for Animal Collective fans on the album: the joyous “My Girls”. Panda Bear’s vocals soar in a sea of drone, synths and other electronics, more handclaps (!), and overall more of whatever the hell these maniacs are doing in the background. As Lennox tells us he doesn’t “mean to seem like he cares about material things/like a social status”, the listener has once again been successfully bombarded with more melodic noise than one even realizes. Like so many other points on Merriweather, beauty is made out of what would appear to be sloppiness.
“Summertime Clothes” is another stunning collage of sounds, as Avey’s wavering vocals paint a pleasant picture of a summer day with his girl, centered around the simple, yet again melodic hook of “I want to walk around with you”. The song, like many others on the album, follows a surprisingly (by AC standards, at least) standard song structure of verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge and so on. This album will probably end up being considered Animal Collective’s “pop” record, as it has much more accessible song structures, hooks, and choruses than any other of the group’s previous records. This isn’t to say that the group has left their “freak” roots behind though; this album is still miles more experimental than any other record that could be considered “accessible” to a mainstream audience.
The album hits some kind of a “lull” in the album’s midsection (“Daily Routine” through “Taste”), and I use that term very loosely. While none of these songs are necessarily poor per se, they do not compare to the album’s high points, and seem to be recycling the same traits seen in the earlier tracks. While “Bluish” manages to effectively be a heartfelt and sensual cry for love-making (a frequent lyrical theme), by the time “Taste” finishes up, it feels as if the record has been relying on its own tricks of odd synth-blips and shouts for a tad too long.
“Lion in a Coma” and “Brother Sport” thankfully help end the album on a high note, and are the last two major standouts on the record, the former centering itself around didgeridoo sample and making a joyous landscape of sound while the chilling vocals talk of a “lion in a coma” and “lying in a coma”. The latter is another magnificent, festive piece, exploding into an enthralling bridge and ultimately is the easiest song on the album to sing/dance along to.
With its soaring vocals, and mesmerizing electronic and synthesized layers of sound, Animal Collective have succeeded in their goal of making a record that is tailor-made for an outdoor setting such as, say, the music festival the album derives its name from. Merriweather Post Pavilion doesn’t restrict itself to one setting or one audience, however; many an indie fanatic will instantly find rapture in it, while it may only takes a few listens for anyone unfamiliar with the band to being challenging their ordinary definition of what makes music “music”. It isn’t “perfect”, but it’s damn near close, and there isn’t a weak track to be found here. This is indeed a “landmark” record, one that is simultaneously made for the freak and the common music fan, that manages to be playable in any setting today, be it the stoned-out music festival, the dance hall, or the indie kid’s dorm party. It is a record that will inevitably inspire dozens of hackneyed , copycat efforts in the years to come. The special thing about it, however, is that this record feels like a record that could only be a result of the 21st century, making it as fresh as any music can sound these days.