Reviewish: Merriweather Post Pavillion

The last few months of 2008 were incredibly slow for the indie music crowd. By the end of October we had heard, whether through leaks or official releases, pretty much everything exciting the year had to offer. Content with rediscovering a few albums that I had passed on earlier in the year, I sort of drifted away from music, falling almost exclusively into bed with my other passion, video games. 2009 looked to be a better year, promising new albums from the incredibly hot Grizzly Bear, Andrew Bird, Dan Deacon, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Wilco, and Sunset Rubdown. What we didn’t know until October was that the Baltimore/Brooklyn currently trio, sometimes four piece, Animal Collective were planning to release a new album in January, and then the hype began.

The internet exploded. For three months irreverent discussion engulfed message boards and blogs. The band’s record label Domino hired good friend Mr. Web Sheriff to police possible leaking of the album, leading to poor Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear getting dragged into a music blog headlining tiff over hosting a stream of the previously leaked by Frenchmen track “Brother Sport.” All the drama and hype aside Merriweather Post Pavillion was released on LP on January 6th (I received my copy a week earlier…meaning the possible best album of 2009 actually arrived in my hands in 2008…) to incredible fervor and of course it did not disappoint.
The album is for all intents and purposes Animal Collective’s “pop album.” It is by far the most accessible thing they’ve recorded. It’s still not for everyone, in fact it’s still not for most people, including the Collective’s long time fans. The clean, sensible, layered pop of MPP is a far shot from the superb but also ear torture laden debut, and fan favorite, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished. Gone are the quirk and charms of the Sung Tongs era (the kitties outro of “Leaf House”). Gone are the just plain freak outs (Strawberry Jam’s “Cuckoo Cuckoo”). Instead we’re treated to a more mature, more on point album which sees Animal Collective finally achieving the sound I’ve always wanted them too, the sound that they’ve been alluding to in their past 8 albums.

When friends ask what kind of music Animal Collective makes I’m always a little hard pressed to think of an answer. I settled on saying it’s a sort of hyperpop. Their music has all the basic elements of simple pop songs, great hooks and harmonies, catchy chorus like sing along sections, brilliant beats, but these elements are multiplied tenfold and piled on top of each other with a healthy layer of unusual sounds topping the mix creating something rather unlistenable for the ordinary human. This is what I’ve always loved about the band, but never before in their history have they perfected the recipe for this sort of gourmet pop.

From the percussive aural explosion at the climax of opener “In the Flowers,” to closing track “Brother Sport’s” wild tribal jam, the album is thrilling all the way through its nearly 55 minute length. The aforementioned climax of “In the Flowers” is the first of many intense statements of the album’s first half. It is followed by highlight and first single “My Girls.” It is danceable and fun and has Panda Bear’s (Noah Lennox) fingerprints all over it. This seems to be a theme for MPP. This is the band’s first album fully realized after the runaway success of Panda’s solo effort Person Pitch and his increased influence is obvious. The vocal harmonies are Beach Boysesque and the chosen samples fall more in the realm of synthesized sounds than the “real instruments” found in most of the band’s older material. Perhaps this increased influence is for the better. The songs are still long, most over five minutes, and repetitive but they have a certain tightness to them not seen in albums past.

“Summertime Clothes” picks up where “My Girls” left off, bringing a percussion heavy dancehouse feel and a discernable verse-chorus structure(!) to the typical Animal Collective sounds. It’s followed by the another one of the album’s stars and it’s most old Animal Collectivey sounding song Panda’s “Daily Routine.” It’s similar to Strawberry Jam’s “Derek,” also by Panda, in that it has two clearly defined haves. This time with a very simple rythmic first half, melting away to a typical Animal Collective noise jam. It feels like something straight off of Person Pitch, but it fits right in as the records centerpiece. It’s slow paced, relatively reserved, second half sets the tone for the next few tracks, all a bit softer on the percussion and heavy on the vocal harmonies until closer “Brother Sport” barges through the muck and forces you back onto the dancefloor with it’s tribal beat, mantra chanting chorus, and wailing samples.

Merriweather Post Pavillion will more than likely be the best album realeased in 2009. It also sounds like one of the most important of the decade. I just get an incredible feeling while listening to it. A feeling I haven’t felt since Arcade Fire’s Funeral, the feeling folks must’ve felt when they listened to Ok Computer for the first few months after its release. The feeling that you’re listening to something new and different, and very special. It took them nearly ten years and nine albums, but they have perfected their particular brand of pop. Kudos boys.

Animal Collective – “My Girls”

About Matt Gerardi
Matt Gerardi is a journalist and musician. He also happens to write about video games.

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