Release Date: Jan 20, 2009
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
“(M)uch of this is pure hype… a social version of the TV quiz show where contestants are asked to guess not the true answer to a question, but the answer that polls have shown most people believe is true…” from “The Last President of the United States,” an essay by Greil Marcus, first published in Artforum in 1985 The currency of hype, the elephant in the bedroom of contemporary music writing, is difficult to schematize, but I would say that it roughly equates to word-of-mouth, plus the apparatuses of journalism, plus a special x-factor. Most bands associated with the h-word have x-factors that involve an aggregate of various extra-musical marginalia, like shticks, fashions, geographies, back-stories, unifying visual aesthetics… the stuff that we writers use to fatten our paragraphs and self-aggrandize our profession without having to go through the trouble of listening to anything too closely. Unless you count cryptic internet press-releases, fake names, and optical illusions (I might not blame you), Animal Collective dropped most of their serious shtick when they stopped wearing masks.
Review Summary: Merriweather Post Pavilion is an experience, an interactive pop album marrying every envelope Animal Collective has been pushing. In a lot of ways Merriweather Post Pavilion isn’t just Animal Collective’s “pop” album or best album, it is also the most interactive. The band describes it as music worthy of outdoors listening- or, more specifically, the outdoor Maryland venue the album gets it title from- and they’re right on the money.
House music gets pretty short shrift in the indie-rock community. It is, after all, a direct descendant of that other much-maligned genre, disco. Critics will dress it up in a hipper term (“electronic music,” “electronica”), but there’s little doubt that house music holds considerable sway over Merriweather Post Pavilion, the ninth album from Animal Collective.
Animal Collective gets asses movingIn the last five years or so, the usually Frankenstein-limbed members of the indie-rock-listening community remembered that they have asses. More to the point, they remembered that, sometimes, it’s fun to throw back your head, shut your eyes, and shake said backside like it was on fire. Artists like Girl Talk and Dan Deacon have taken the obvious route toward woot-woot sensory overload, filling their songs with hooky samples and maniacally propulsive beats that basically act as marionette strings for an audience that can’t help but move its arms and legs in appreciation.
Analysis of the hysteria surrounding Animal Collective's ninth album has become a bit of a cottage industry in itself over DiS's Christmas break, to the extent that rocking up on the day of release with another glowing appraisal seems almost a little quaint. But what the hell, eh? All I can really chime in with here are my own reasons for getting in an advance tizzy about Merriweather Post Pavilion, then follow with some words about how it utterly vindicates the pent up expectation, and then there will be one more gushing review in the world and that will be that. Despite a typically rapturous reception (including a 10/10 from this here site), I'm not the only one that 2007's Strawberry Jam didn't really do it for.
Did you think this was going to pan Merriweather Post Pavilion? Sorry, can’t oblige—I’m as guilty as the most effusive critic of Animal Collective-love. So here goes. Merriweather Post Pavilion is a masterstroke, a release so fun to listen to it makes you actually hopeful for the new year, not just for music but for life in general. It’s musically sophisticated, of course, boiling up the band’s characteristic components of techno, tribalism, drone and noise with gorgeous melody into an addictive optimism.
Animal Collective have brought the celestial down to earth with each record, but they've never sounded simultaneously otherworldly and approachable quite like they do on Merriweather Post Pavilion. Their eighth studio LP, it finds them at their best -- straining farther away from conventional song structure and accompaniment, even while doubling back to reach lyrical themes and modes of singing at their most basic or child-like. Where before AC expertly inserted experimental snippets into relatively straight-ahead songs, Merriweather Post Pavilion sees them reach some kind of denouement where pop music ends and pure sonic experience begins -- the sound is the only structure.
Squares are seldom invited to the art-school party, and for nearly a decade, the trippy, often willfully obtuse output of cerebral-psych outfit Animal Collective easily stopped most musical normies at the door. In 2007, however, member Noah ”Panda Bear” Lennox found solo acclaim with Person Pitch, a gorgeously accessible sonic whirligig — like Pet Sounds spun through a flux capacitor. And while their ninth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, won’t land the band the opening slot on a Coldplay tour, it cleaves closer to Pitch‘s more listener-friendly aesthetic, abandoning the self-indulgent impulses that sometimes muddied last year’s Strawberry Jam for an album full of effervescent, transportive oddity.
Named after their favourite 1960s rock venue and featuring no songs longer than six minutes, Animal Collective's hugely-anticipated ninth album is their most "pop." And yet, initially it makes no sense at all. Why are they combining hallucinatory kaleidoscopic sounds with thundering, almost junglist beats? What right has an avant-garde Baltimore folk-rock sampler band got to sound like Philip Glass? There are wind chimes, bleeps, tribal yelps and lyrics so abstract you couldn't begin to guess what they are, or mean. However, as the beguiling melodies take hold they unveil a tapestry of magic.
It seems that the reflex critical response to any new Animal Collective release is to call it "their most accessible recording ever." While they've obviously raised production values for Merriweather Post Pavillion - the sound of guitars has been eclipsed by a sampledelic woosh and gurgle - Animal Collective fans will be relieved to find the group keeping a safe distance from mainstream pap. Layered vocals carry bold melodies over frequently shifting keyboard textures as if they were shooting for a Pet Sounds of their own, but they're no Beach Boys. They rely too heavily on repetition to avoid having to come up with memorable choruses.
Animal Collective are the Peter Pans of indie-rock. Four avant-garde thirtysomethings from Baltimore, whose stage names betray their regard for childhood, Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Geologist and Deakin have made eight albums of head-spinning, outré pop, the best of which evoke the fleeting highs of prepubescence when life is endowed with endless possibilities. Even by their own exuberant standards, though, AC's ninth album is a dizzying knees-up that makes most music, indie rock or otherwise, sound both bloodless and pathetically timid.
Animal Collective has always been a pop group. In the past the band focused its talent for crafting extremely catchy songs through different lenses that may have obscured this particular aspect of the music. On Here Comes the Indian it was tribal noise-rock, with Sung Tongs it was warped psychedelic folk. Feels saw Animal Collective channel 4AD groups such as The Cocteau Twins and early Lush before settling in to the decidedly more aggressive electronic splatter of Strawberry Jam.
That the Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion (so named for Maryland’s jam base of choice) comes out in a few days is superfluous at this point; after all, it’s circulated enough over the past few weeks that some have deigned to christen it the best album of 2009, young as the year may be. While such grand proclamations further underscore the complete irrelevance of release dates and the fervent impatience of modern criticism, they also serve another, more important point – that these overwhelming exultations come in response to what may be the finest moment in the Animal Collective’s decade-plus history. As of Strawberry Jam, the Collective had basically painted themselves into an increasingly constricting corner, working the same affections for folk and psych of multinational stripes (think British and Brazilian, mostly) into unfortunately bland outcomes.
The praise bestowed on Animal Collective is justified, even if the exultation over the Baltimore-born trio's latest LP is overblown. From the group's freak-folk anticipation on 2003's Campfire Songs to its ushering in indie's new density with Feels (2005), the Collective forges musical frontiers even when the results are scattershot. Merriweather Post Pavilion decamps as the outfit's most consistent album, readily remixable but largely lacking moments of thrilling unexpectedness that redeemed the band's electro-eccentricities.