Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino Records, 2009)
At the end of 2008 I listed Animal Collective’s forthcoming Merriweather Post Pavilion as my most anticipated album of 2009. Certainly I was not the only music lover and Collective fan to buzz about their latest offering; blogs posted tidbits of trivia and album artwork while early leaks of tracks “My Girls” and “Brother Sport” drew thousands of listens and only increased the fever pitch of excitement surrounding the album. Needless to say I was a bit nervous about whether or not the album as a whole would live up to the hype of the unofficial “singles”, but having had Merriweather on repeat for the last few days, I think its even better than I could have imagined. I am convinced that it will be counted as one of the best albums of 2009.
The title comes from the name of a venue in Maryland that tends to play host to much more main stream artists than Animal Collective, such as Santana and Sheryl Crow, but more important to note is the subtle way that they have brought together their experimental tendencies and their melodic pop influences, in what is surely their most accessible record. Thats not to say that die-hard AC fans are going to be disappointed when they hear this album. On the contrary, it has all the marks of a classic; able to combine the exuberance of 2004′s Sung Tongs, the raw sonic fields of Feels (released the year after), and the trademark unifying crescendos, effervescently making one musical idea out of many, of 2007′s Strawberry Jam. The songwriting is as rich as ever, each track meandering through layers of meaning and yet never losing sight of the overall landscape of the album: a shimmering, celebratory ode to the myriad wonders of life and love.
Somehow prime songwriters Dave Portner (aka Avey Tare) and Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) are more focused now than they have ever been, displaying the strength of their individual styles when melded together. Panda Bear tends to be the more dream inspired, shoegaze oriented of the two, whereas Avey Tare is more lyrically straight-forward. The duo dive into pop music history and sprinkle the album with catchy hooks and choruses that give Merriweather the feel of a dance album at times, while at other moments rendering it a deep sea of pensive chants and mantras. Brian Weitz (aka Geologist) once again enriches Animal Collective’s music, fiddling with various knobs and electronics galore to create interesting and complex music that meshes seamlessly with the lyrics and vocals of Tare and Panda. Considering that at any given time there may be as many as 18 vocal loops layered on top of one another, it was no small feat to balance the “noise” of each track with the “voices” that so often drive their compositions.
One of the major differences between this album and their earlier work is the control that Tare and Panda exhibit. There are far fewer emotive outbursts and jangling vocal interjections than in the past (see their first full length studio album Here Comes the Indian on Paw Tracks Records), which some may read as a criticism, but, far from being disappointed, I was impressed by the way this newfound calm contributed to the gradual building quality of the record. Merriweather Post Pavilion, AC’s eighth LP, is as complete an album as they have ever created, smoothly flowing from up-tempo beats to retro pop to ambient soundworlds, all while continuing their endless expedition towards the outer boundaries of the musical universe.
It has been written already, and rightly so, that virtually any song on this album could stand alone, but some of the most amazing tracks are the Brian Wilson infused “Summertime Clothes” (yes, that’s right, a Beach Boys reference); the instantly memorable “Also Frightened” that revels in starry harmonics and contains the scintillating and catchy line “will it be just like they’re dreaming/will it be just like I’m dreaming”; and the synthed-out “Daily Routine” that displays old-school Collective experimentalism in its unorthodox structure and echo imbued musical fabric.
But the ultimate beauty of this album is its wholeness. Whereas early Animal Collective saw Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist, and Deakin creating music that seemed compiled from endless jam sessions and late night “experimenting”, Merriweather is immaculately constructed, and sees the Collective stronger than ever, completely at ease with their unique sound and displaying a confidence that springs from nearly a decade of creative and groundbreaking music.
Like most of you I am horribly behind in far too many classes to admit here, but I am thrilled to be awake at 12:54am writing this review of a stupendous show put on by two of our very own Vinyl Records artists, Lake Inferior and Lafcadio. The show was benefiting C.A.S.A., an organization in rural Mexico that provides medical equipment to improve fetal health, and the good news is there were lots of people willing to give tonight. Although it got underway a tad on the late side, the show ran smoothly and showcased the magnificence once again of our resident tech wizard David.
Lake Inferior started things off with a set that can only be described as a random sampling of everything and nothing you have ever heard before. Unfortunately Dax was recovering vocally from a show the night before and so was oddly quiet, but the melodic contributions of Bo and Derek were plenty of reason to smile about the sound that is Lake Inferior.
Its hard to describe because any word or genre leaves out other elements that they somehow tie together into open songs that wind and weave from slow to fast tempos and back again and cover enough emotional conflicts to fill another DSM IV. From the get go with the rocking track “Land Locked Surf Rock”, you could tell it was going to be an experimental and eclectic night of music. The best way I can think of to perhaps do them justice would be to imagine giving a bunch of brilliant but frenetic kids the keys to Radiohead’s studio and then recording the result.
I don’t make that comparison lightly, I think Radiohead are the most innovative and important band of our generation, but there are some definite comparisons that must be pointed out, aside from the fact that when warming up they played the first few bars of “15 Step”. Both seem to love playing with sounds on Macintosh’s and adding eerie samples into already complex songs. Nasir seems to channel Thom Yorke when he wails on tracks like the ambient “Vancouver” that displays of all things a dubstep influence, seriously. They even covered “Psycho Killer” from the Talking Heads, the band from whom Radiohead took their name. According to our very own Mike Mahoney, one of our wonderful A&R guys, Lake Inferior are “jammy in the best possible way!” Take it as you will, but one thing is certain, they do know how to jam and they definitely know how to wow an audience with their technical ability, range, and creativity.
Then it was time for Lafcadio, who, like Lake Inferior, revealed some new tracks that are sure to be fast favorites. They are sporting a slightly different look, minus a mohawk and plus a bassist (the incomparable Eric) and some electric guitar, giving them some edges to work with in their more blues influenced tracks.
They too display a myriad of influences, most noticeably folk, rock, and blues, but that’s not to say that their sound is by any means predictable. Each track is a new exploration of the talents of each member and the passion which they put into their songwriting process. Liz Ross is as sultry and powerful a singer as you will ever hear and can go from a swinging dance number with playful trills to a mellow southwestern samba without batting an eye.
One of the most memorable moments of the night was their cover of “The Son of a Preacher Man”, made famous by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield, which jazzed up the stage and got the whole crowd snapping their fingers and grooving. Although they have added electric instruments into many of their songs, Ross made sure to remind the crowd that the reason they “play acoustic is because we don’t want to make anyone explode.” Seems reasonable enough to me. I’ve been known to throw out some esoteric food metaphors before in relation to this group, so here’s another one for old time’s sake: bite into a fresh habanero pepper and take a swig of sweet rice milk. If you’ve got a spicy, silky, fragrant taste in your mouth thats spreading throughout your body then you are starting to understand what its like to hear Lafcadio live.
It was shocking how the night slipped effortlessly through so many different moods and sounds, it was a veritable feast of musical delight for everyone involved, and I don’t think I could have spent my Wednesday night any better way than listening to great music and helping a worthy cause. My thanks to everyone involved, hope to see you next time, and if you didn’t catch the show check out the recording here!
Deerhoof – “Chandelier Searchlight”, off of 2008′s Offend Maggie, video directed by Clyde Petersen
Deerhoof’s tenth studio album, called Offend Maggie on Kill Rock Stars, will not shock any long time fans of the San Francisco group that have spawned everything from 7″ records to ballets. They even released one of their tracks from the nex album (“Fresh Born”) early as sheet music so people could create their own versions of it. Neat-o huh?
Although they haven’t broken new ground with this album, Satomi Matsuzaki’s vocals are as flitting and calm as ever and their shift from individual to compositional has never been more apparent. Deerhoof are a polished experimental group who understand that its not always necessary to reinvent yourself to remain pertinent in musical society. As Matsuzaki sings on the title track “one, two, three, four/I won’t become history”. I certainly hope not.
Want to ask them a question about their music, or anything else, just click here
Be sure to check them out on October 28th when they come through Cat’s Cradle, should be a fantastic show