Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective

Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino Records; vinyl release 1/6/09, digital & CD release 1/20/09)


First off, let me say that I’ve been to the actual Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland several times, and I don’t really feel the need to name any of the bands I’ve seen there (Phish- twice!, Keller Williams, Yonder Mountain String Band, Bela Fleck, Del McCoury, etc.) because it will expose my former hippie leanings (jam bands and bluegrass music? Really, man…). I can only guess that Animal Collective has been to a few of these shows, too- after all the Collective is from nearby Baltimore, has a “crunchy” following and an “experimental” sound to their music.

Plus, it’s the pre-eminent concert venue in the greater Baltimore/DC area. So to name your newest and most accessible release after the big wooden-facaded outdoor amphitheater set in the woods right next to a shopping mall- and there you have (in a reductive way) what this record is all about- a nature scene juxtaposed by a capitalist retail utopia.

I should also take a minute to explain something else that’s been bothering me about doing this review- I’ve rather maligned this band in the past, discovering them when Sung Tongs came out and immediately dismissing it as “annoying crap” (I may have used a different adjective; the point being that I completely missed the “point”) wondering shit like “who the fuck uses a slamming door as a drum sample? and “is that a kid laughing his ass off on nitrous balloons?” and the same for Feels (“this whole damn record sounds slightly out of tune” or “the two live songs from the bonus disc are from Haverford College? It figures those nerds get this music…”), etc. So then I was argued into checking out Strawberry Jam, which I did reluctantly and (gasp) actually quite liked. I should blame Panda Bear; I liked his Person Pitch but didn’t go ape-shit over it like the rest of the world, it’s a very fine record for a Collective-solo. So in short; I’m on board now, which is usually the case with me after repeated exposure to any stimulus. The stimuli being a somewhat discordant undertone but still retaining a melodic delicacy to the mix, yeah I can dig it. And it has a smile-inducing quality to it, that’s nice. And if last year was any indicator that I’d be okay with listening to a lot of stuff I’ve previously shied away from (Xiu Xiu, Butthole Surfers, Dirty Projectors, Big Black, Deerhoof, Steve Reich, Boredoms, Sonic Youth, Van Dyke Parks, Japanther, Battles, Liars, the list can go on endlessly), then 2009 is getting off to a wild start. After all, it’s only music- it can’t hurt me, right?

Let’s get into the album now- envision The Flaming Lips having an orgy with The Shins on really strong microdot while channeling Brian Eno and Robert Fripp’s tape-loop manipulations, all the while conjuring up a seance with Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds harmonies; that’s a pretty close idea to what Animal Collective’s been up to lately. And the artwork is pretty rad; stare at it long enough and you’ll get the sensation of movement. Maybe you can still see it with your eyes closed. Maybe, you can get yourself into that “tunnel” and really trip out. Who out there knows what I’m talking about? Indubitably the Collective’s Avey Tare (Dave Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Geologist (Brian Weitz) have been inside that lysergically-induced mind warp and this record will probably serve as some sort of spirit guide for a new generation of chemically experimental kids, much like Dark Side Of The Moon or Wish You Were Here was thirty-plus years ago.

Oh, yeah- the music… The album’s intro track, In The Flowers, starts out with a shimmery glissando giving way to this churning liquid bubbling underneath until the pounding kicks in; lyrically it’s an ode to going on the road, being away from family for stretches at a time. Which is also a possible omen; I can see this album being so successful that AC will probably be on the road most of the year in support of this record- now that the reviews are pouring in, the critical acclaim can be a bit overwhelming. If they take the ball and run with it, here’s my crystal ball prediction: headliners at Bonnaroo/Coachella/name your festival.

I’m just saying is all…

But I can say without any reservation that my favorite track on the album is My Girls, an early front-runner for song of the year. It’s got this pumping booty bass sound with hand claps and the most infectious refrain about Panda Bear’s sublime life in Portugal with wife and daughter: “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”. Try and not nod your head to this jam. Oh, and the vocal harmonies are way beyond anything they’ve ever done.

Animal Collective – My Girls

Panda evokes a James Mercer-esque vocal stylization (to justify my Shins comparison) to another highlight of the album on Daily Routine. This is truly a “life with family” album- it’s got that domesticated feel in a lot of the song’s lyrics. And to justify another comparison; Bluish has The Beach Boys’ patented harmonizations imprinted all over its chorus, no doubt Avey’s love song for his wife.

Taste has the most self-aware lyrics on the album, posing the question; “When we share our points of view you get a glimpse of me / I get a glimpse of you and I don’t really care / If I don’t change your ways”, and I’m paraphrasing here: “Am I really all the things that are outside of me? Am I real?” Existensial crisis? Or a shot at the critics, possibly. This critic at least has changed his mind on this band, there are so many beautiful messages that are much less obtuse than in previous AC records. Plus, the lyrics are higher in the mix.

The bassline to No More Runnin is so low and snarky; growling under the mix at such a sub-sonic level, and at the top of the register the pitch shifting of the vocals adds that little bit of creepiness- the overall feel of the album is upbeat and happy so it acts as a perfect foil before the stunning finale Brother Sport, Panda’s eulogy to his recently passed father. Imploring his brother Matt to “open up your throat / let them go” and then helping him process the loss through the development of his creative side: “You’re halfway to fully grown / You’ve got a real good shot / You’ve got so much inside / Let it come right out”.

Animal Collective – Brother Sport (live at Hove Festival, 2008)

I’ve probably said this in at least five album reviews over the past two years, and I’ll say it again- fearless self-exploration makes for great art; and whatever you want to label Animal Collective’s music as, whether it be psych folk, experimental pop, noise/art rock, neo-psychedelia, etc., has reached its pinnacle here on Merriweather Post Pavillion. Being able to take so many different influences, bend genres and synthesize it down to your own unique sound is damn near impossible to do these days- I’m one of those people who’s been known to remark, “It’s really all been done; Band X is just ripping off Band Y so they can get into Band Z’s demographics, etc.” Any number of “music geek” statements I’ve been known to make can be applied at any time to any number of bands, yadda yadda on and on ad infinitum…

…but being able to change someone’s mind through music, that’s the biggest victory any band can claim over a listener’s ears.

Thank you Animal Collective.