Thanks to a few resourceful music pirates and an ill-timed blog leak, the hype machine occasionally known as the online music press has already trumpeted Animal Collective’s latest effort, “Merriweather Post Pavilion,”—officially released in CD format this past Tuesday—as “an interactive pop album” (Sputnikmusic) and “one of the landmark American albums of the century,” (Uncut Magazine) a testament to the best-of-2009 predictions the album has been already enjoying almost unanimously among critics.
Yep, to those of you now reaching to check your calendars, it’s still January.
Now, before I join the chorus of universal acclaim, I feel this review merits a “hype disclaimer,” if you will: “MPP,” for all its supposed pop tendencies and accessibility, is still the work of the same ritual-celebrating neo-hippies behind the respective psych-folk and noise pop freak-outs of “Sung Tongs” and “Feels” which, despite earning them legions of enthusiastic Dead-head-esque followers, also spawned an equivalent amount of stubbornly affronted naysayers.
And despite the group’s evolution to more classically-based song structures, nothing on “MPP,” the group’s eighth studio effort, is going to win over those naysayers—or even the uninitiated masses— and tap into mainstream markets a la recent indie success stories Modest Mouse, The Shins, and Arcade Fire. Animal Collective won’t even be entertaining crowds this summer at their album’s namesake, a Maryland venue known for bringing in some of the country’s biggest pop acts.
Though the group, comprised of childhood friends Avey Tare (Dave Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), and Geologist (Brian Weitz)—no Deakin (Josh Dibbs) this time around— has always existed outside the boundaries of conventional genre type-casting, “MPP” flawlessly blends the group’s best attributes—mind-blowing vocal harmonies, trance-inducing sound textures, cathartic rhythmic frenzies—into a suprisingly danceable, career-defining pop record.
Yet despite all this, the casual music fan still finds themselves confronted with the sheer weirdness of the music.
That Animal Collective can produce this reaction, essentially de-familiarizing pop music in the process, justifies every salivating, exaggerated, “Pet Sounds”-referencing critical response this album will, and should, receive.
Nearly a decade into a sprawling discography better-known for exploring uncharted musical waters with the wide-eyed wonder of children than penning pop masterpieces about maturity, Animal Collective finally manage to rein in the self-indulgent, experimental kid-in-a-candy-shop aesthetic that stained their back-catalogue with thoughtfully calibrated songwriting reflecting the group’s collective arrival at adulthood.
The secret here is consistency.
Granted, every Animal Collective album has had moments of undeniable brilliance—the triumvirate (“Chores,” “Reverend Green,” and “Fireworks”) anchoring 2007’s otherwise lackluster “Strawberry Jam” immediately comes to mind—but on “MPP,” in contrast to earlier albums, each song feels not only sonically linked, but mined from a singular vein of artistic inspiration.
Avey Tare and Panda Bear are now both married—Panda has a kid—and accordingly, a theme of domesticity winds its way through “MPP,” evident in a track listing littered with titles such as: “My Girls,” “Daily Routine,” and “No More Runnin.”
“I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things like a social status / I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls,” sings Lennox on album standout and probable song-of-the-year contender “My Girls.”
Removed from the context of the song, the line is unimpressive at best—yet, backed by a yelping Avey Tare, giant handclaps and a synth arpeggio that could easily have been ripped from “Baba O’Riley”—the song becomes a transcendental anthem for domestic bliss.
All over “MPP,” growing-up becomes an ecstatic celebration of chest-rattling bass thumps, giddy handclaps, and soaring vocal melodies, all infused with a refreshing dose of childish wonderment that no one but Animal Collective could have pulled off.
Album opener “In the Flowers” finds Avey Tare observing a dancing stranger, “feeling envy for the kid who danced despite anything,” before rediscovering his own youth over a pounding onslaught of steel drums.
“Summertime Clothes” continues this trend, detailing a young couple discovering the mysterious joys of a bustling city, and “Brother Sport,” the triumphant closer, ends on an affirming note of positive encouragement despite the song’s enigmatic lyrics.
But the real punch here isn’t the lyrics—it’s the dueling silver-throated tongues of Portner and Lennox lifting their otherwise vague lyrical meanderings to sublime heights.
“MPP,” like recent releases by The National and LCD Soundsystem, has managed to tread the thinnest line in modern music—the line that bridges the gap between originality and convention, youth and adulthood, wonder and maturity.
All hype-generating hyperbole aside, listening to Merriweather Post Pavilion has—if only for 55 minutes—softened my stern brow of collegiate cynicism just enough to let the tiniest glint of childish glee shine through.