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Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

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Artist: Animal Collective

Album: Merriweather Post Pavilion

Label: Domino

Review date: Jan. 19, 2009

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. Whereas their rattling, galloping approach had served to unite these strands with weirdo electronics in ways that never failed to communicate a sense of amazement at the surrounding world, that last album sounded clunky and dated, like a gasp from a group floundering in a way they never before had.

All of which makes Merriweather Post Pavilion that much more surprising - not a return to form so much as a complete reinvention, this is an album that highlights a particularly buoyant Animal Collective, one that’s managed to expand their sound in surprising ways while still retaining the same basic creative impulses that made them such a joy to watch develop over the past decade. Down to a trio now with the departure of Josh Dibb (a.k.a. Deakin), the Collective moves beyond the chiming guitars and winsome vocals of their previous works, focusing more on technicolor synths, samplers, and drum machine claps than the expected palette of acoustic strings and thumping toms.

Though they’ve toyed with electronics throughout much of their recording career, rarely has the Animal Collected harnessed those machines for such unabashed pop. Tracks like “My Girls” bounce along on irrepressible melodies, with Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s lyrics careening around the spaces left by the spare percussive claps. Elsewhere, “Daily Routine” skips across a sea of echoing beats that display a newfound sense of rhythmic subtlety, gradually giving way to oceans of reverberant vocals that take the track out on tones of Arthur Russell. Even more surprising here are the more contextualized forays into ambient passages care of Geologist, wound tightly into pop passages like the verses of “Also Frightened,” at times betraying an almost overt debt to techno like Gas.

Lyrically, too, Merriweather is an easy step above all that’s come before it. Eschewing the strange food themes that popped up a few times throughout Strawberry Jam, as well as any lingering animal fascinations, both vocalists here focus more on their families than anything else, using their words to describe the wide-eyed sense of wonder they see in the children, rather than attempting to reclaim any such feelings that maybe passed from their own minds long ago. In a way, it makes for the most mature Animal Collective recording to date, one that’s every bit as playful and energetic as their reputation would suggest, yet without any of the cringe-worthy moments that made their last go-round such an up and down listening experience.

By Michael Crumsho

Other Reviews of Animal Collective

Here Comes the Indian

Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished/Danse Manatee

Sung Tongs




Strawberry Jam

Water Curses

Fall Be Kind

Centipede Hz

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View all articles by Michael Crumsho

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