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.