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Album Review: Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion”

by Rudy Klapper 25 January 2009 3,253 views One Comment E-mail Rudy Klapper

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Domino 2009
Rating: 9/10

Album Cover for Merriweather Post Pavilion

Album Cover for Merriweather Post Pavilion

I’ve always made it a goal of mine in life to try something new when the opportunity presents itself. From my pre-teen samplings of Indian delicacies to my developing infatuation with high-definition television, I’ve consistently found that new experiences are truly the spice of life. Sure, there will always be missteps along the way, such as my ill-fated attempt to appreciate modern art and my disastrous foray into death metal, but it’s the things you discover that make it all worthwhile.

Animal Collective’s latest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is just the kind of new adventure that I look forward to the most: the musical expedition into the unknown. I’ve treaded the Collective’s path before; 2005’s Feels was a psychedelic enigma that I tried desperately to get into but never really succeeded; for one reason or another, the lyrics always seemed a bit too obtuse and the music way too far out of left field to ever really grab me. Perhaps that was why I never gave 2007’s Strawberry Jam a fair chance despite the oodles of critical acclaim, a decision I will surely re-think after listening to Pavilion. Again, Animal Collective has been showered with hyper-literate blogosphere praise and lauded for their experimental creativity, but don’t mistake this for the same old hype for musicians who dare to be different: Merriweather Post Pavilion is for real.

The first thing that makes itself fairly evident within the first few minutes of Pavilion is that Animal Collective have fully embraced the pop idiom that they have been flirting with on their last couple of records. Sure, opener “In The Flowers” rides along an otherworldly synth line and a chugging drum machine rhythm before coalescing into a carnival sideshow melody and the Collective’s haunting vocals (all four members share vocal duties, but Avey Tare is the primary singer), but gone are the Collective’s often off-putting vocal inflections of earlier records and the confusing musical frameworks that set them firmly apart as an “experimental” band. The climactic chorus of interlocked harmonies, threatening bass, and searing electronics is genuine, enjoyable pop.

The band still throws conventional pop song structures to the wind, switching from verse to interlude to gloriously multi-tracked choruses seemingly at whim, but it’s this sense of organized chaos that makes Merriweather Post Pavilion such a well-designed record. At 55 minutes, it’s one of their longest yet, but one never gets the feeling that Animal Collective is just wasting space and sound. “My Girls” starts off with a space-y keyboard riff and vocals that come out of nowhere seemingly only to announce that “I only want a proper house / I don’t care for fancy things” like some cosmic god of the family. It’s only when the brilliant chorus comes in, complete with handclaps and unabashedly cheerful “yeaaahs” that the song reveals itself as a hauntingly affecting pop masterpiece.

It’s hard to think that Animal Collective could follow up the one-two punch of “In The Flowers” and “My Girls” (a music video for “My Girls” is embedded below) with a consistent batch of songs to last the rest of the album, but they rarely fail to disappoint. There’s the nearly tribal “Also Frightened,” which floats along on a detached electronica loop and vocalists Tare and Panda Bear’s (yes, that’s what he goes by) droning questions. The excellently unhinged “Summertime Clothes,” follows, perhaps the most accessible song on the record and easily the most entertaining, with its deliriously happy beat and Tare’s drunken declarations of “I want to walk around with you / and be here with you.”

No matter how many seemingly out-of-place dance rhythms are mixed with drug-induced guitar riffs or alien harmonies, Animal Collective never seem to lose their grip on the essential pop pulse of their songs. “Bluish” meanders all over the place throughout its five-minute-plus length, from a squishy synth line to seemingly random effects that sound culled from an ancient Nintendo game to a poppy outro stuffed full of unnecessary sounds and falsetto vocals, but in the end it comes off as just another wildly inventive song that, for all its wackiness, works on a record full of them.

Despite what many blog powers may have you think, Animal Collective is not perfect. The problems here are few, but undeniable, most noticeably the ridiculously annoying ear-piercing synth riff that turns “Daily Routine” into perhaps the record’s most obnoxious experiment. The mumbled spoken-word lyrics of “Lion in a Coma” lack any particularly intriguing beat to mask them, a surprise for a record that is nearly spot-on with its production and instrumental choices. And whatever you do, don’t try to read too much into the lyrics: the Collective might have made their vocals more understandable, but aside from a few choice cuts such as the aforementioned “My Girls,” what Tare or Panda Bear say is largely inscrutable.

Merriweather Post Pavilion is the kind of record that comes around only once in a long while. It’s most assuredly not everyone’s idea of a good time; it requires an open mind and a willingness to drop all preconceived notions of comprehensible music. It is assuredly a critic’s record above everything else, not the kind of product that millions will be clamoring for anytime soon, but in their crazily convoluted vision of pop music Animal Collective have created a record that mixes and matches multiple genres while retaining their uniquely art-house sound and their all-important indie credibility. It’s only been twenty days into 2009, but already Animal Collective have set a high-water mark in experimental pop that looks likely to stand for years.

Image via Guardian.co.uk

Image via Guardian.co.uk

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One Comment »

  • Roger said:

    This album is rad!!!!!

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