Music Review: Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion (2009)


If you aren’t already aware of the hype for Merriweather Post Pavillion, it probably means you don’t spend much time reading up on your music, at least as far as indie music message boards are concerned.  In this case (and perhaps most, although I won’t go there), consider yourself spared, as there has been more pre-release hoorah over the album (despite only two tracks having been leaked before the vynal release) than this reviewer remembers or ever cares to see again.  It’s always unfortunate when this kind of near baseless hype precedes any sort of new release, be it a movie, video game, album, etc., as rarely can the actual product deliver on the promise created when message board junkies feed off eachother’s excitement, growing hungrier and hungrier each day.  Many hopes and dreams have been dashed in such a fashion, and it’s not unreasonable for anyone to assume that the same will be the case with Merriweather Post Pavillion, which many people claimed hastily was a shoe-in for not only best album of 2009, but perhaps one of the best albums of the decade, despite never having heard the darn thing.  Now the album is finally out, and we find that all the hype, all the hasty proclomations of greatness… well, were true.

You know how when you first started getting into Animal Collective, and you could really dig tracks like “Leaf House” and “Who Could Win A Rabbit”, but you couldn’t for the life of you understand what was the deal with tracks like “Visiting Friends”, or for that matter, any of their records predating Here Comes the Indian?  You know how Strawberry Jam was pretty great, especially with tracks like “For Reverend Green”, “Fireworks” and “Derek”, but on the whole was a bit too abrasive and jagged?  You know how you loved Person Pitch, and wondered why Panda Bear wasn’t more prominent on his band’s albums?  Well if you do know, then Animal Collective have just made your record.  If you don’t know, chances are that Animal Collective have still made your record.  Merriweather Post Pavillion should appeal to anyone with an appetite for beautifully harmonized melodies, surreal arrangements, and general weirdness.  No, cross that, “appeal to” isn’t the right phrase.  Replace that with dazzle, astound and/or mesmerize, and you’re getting somewhat closer.  The fact is, Merriweather Post Pavillion is Animal Collective’s masterpiece; not just a masterpiece of their discography, but of modern music.

A good deal can be told about Merriweather Post Pavillion by simply looking at the track list.  Every track falls between 3 and 6 minute marks, an untraditionally traditional move for the collective, but the long/short songs of past records will not be missed, even by fans of old.  Animal Collective have clearly gravitated towards more traditional pop structures over the passing years, and Merriweather is the next big step.  Long time fans needn’t worry however; they are still quite plainly Animal Collective.  Synths, distorted vocals and disguised melodies are here by the plenty, only this time, you’re going to be singing and dancing several listens earlier than you would be on previous albums.  Tracks like “Summertime Clothes”, “Lion in a Coma”, and “Brothersport” will make sure of that, thanks to their delectible pop sensibilities, flawless beats and the sheer grippiness of the samples.

Another striking aspect of Merriweather is the lyrics.  Given that their vocals have traditionally been nonsensical or distorted to the point incomprehension, the moments of lyrical brilliance to be found here are both surprising and delightful.  Avey Tare, lead vocalist and creditted writer for most songs, never attempts to be clever or pretends to be a prolific poet, but relies on simple, endearing lines to clumsily but honestly express themes of family life, romance and sensuality.  On the sublime “My Girls”, Avey and Panda belt perhaps the most memorable lines on the album, expressing the value of a simple family life over material wealth, “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things/like my social staus/I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls,” while on the similarly beautiful “Bluish”, Avey/Panda sings to his wife, “Put on that dress that I like/it makes me so crazy though I can’t say why/keep on your stockings for a while/there’s some kind of magic in the way you’re lying there.”  It’s these straightforward, slightly awkward but uncommonly pure themes that define Merriweather, and will make you want to go back to past albums to try and discern what you may not have noticed before.  It hardly ends there; backed by their strongest melodies and harmonies yet, lines like “I’m getting lost in your curls”, “I want to walk around with you”, and “Just a sec more in my bed”, are bound to be bouncing around in your head until Merriweather becomes the only thing you have any desire to listen to.

The music backing the vocals is fairly traditional Animal Collective.  Dripping, droning samples wash through the album, creating a distinct cohesiveness, while strong, tribal beats shift momentum and add all the variety you’ve come to expect from Avey, Panda and Geologist (Deakin is absent on this album).  It’s by far their most polished album, and continues where Strawberry Jam left off, with nearly all sample based music.  Rarely does it sound generic or mechanical (in fact, only once, on “Taste”).  Everything flows with organic beauty, sounding more foreign than computerized.  It’s almost all immediate, but is gripping enough to keep you coming back over and over, until you know every movement, every shift of pace, and every layer presented.  Animal Collective show that they have truly mastered their craft, and it will be interesting to see how they expand on the next record.

If you haven’t already figured it out, Merriweather Post Pavillion  is a near perfect masterpiece, flawlessly combining all the positive elements of Animal Collective’s catalog and underplaying the negative ones.  Animal Collective have refined their skills, reaching astounding heights of melodic beauty, endearing quirkiness and perfect production.  It’s rare that I can’t wait to get back to my room to listen to a song; it generally only happens once or twice a year, if that, that music genuinely excites me.  Merriweather Post Pavillion is not only one of those times, but for this reviewer, an idealized vision of enthusiasm come true.

Final Score: 9.7/10

Highlights: My Girls, Summertime Clothes, Bluish, Lion in a Coma, Brothersport


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