Album Review: Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

[Domino; 2009]

In many ways, Animal Collective’s ninth studio album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, epitomizes the way music is consumed in the 21st century. Long before any concrete details were released, pages and pages of posts on various message boards dissected every minuscule piece of information. Animal Collective, despite being extremely well regarded in the indie-rock community, are virtual unknowns to basically everyone else, but for hundreds (and eventually thousands) of pages, fans speculated on everything from how the album’s songs would differ from their respective live recordings to what its Pitchfork rating would be. All of this before anyone had heard a note of the finished album. When a shitty vinyl rip of Merriweather Post Pavilion finally leaked on Christmas Eve, the mad rush began to decide where it would place not only in Animal Collective’s catalog but also among other “landmark” albums of this century. And now that it has been in our consciousness for all of three weeks, most people have pretty much formed their opinions on the album and moved on. This cycle of hype and anticipation is the kind of thing that used to happen over the course of months, even years. But thanks to the Internet, the entire trajectory of the album’s reception took place in a little over a month, and fans have already begun speculating about what the group’s next album is going to sound like.

But let’s slow down here, and take a moment to recognize the achievement of this album. On Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective have created a consistently inventive and engaging pop record that reveals new subtleties with each listen, and distills the group’s extensive back catalog to its very essence. It’s the kind of album that can push a band from well-regarded outsiders to the indie-rock A-list.

Merriweather Post Pavilion offers instant gratification, but I’ve listened to it easily 20 times now and I’m still hearing new things every time, and its immediate highlights never get old. Two and a half minutes into opener “In the Flowers,” Avey Tare muses, “if I could just leave my body for a night,” and the song is blown wide open by massive strings and percussion. On first listen this explosion is an instant attention-grabber, and remarkably, this effect does not fade across multiple listens. You always know it’s coming, but you’re always blown away by it.

More than any of the individual songs, the most arresting thing about Merriweather is its sound. Reverb is piled so high that many of the songs sound as though they were recorded underwater. When juxtaposed with pop melodies and harmonies that Brian Wilson would be proud to call his own, this murky production adds to the album’s charm and makes it sound cohesive. On their own, there is not much similar in the giant disco stomp of “My Girls,” the Beach Boys-esque “Guys Eyes,” the spaced-out drone of “No More Runnin’,” and the hyperactive electronica of the astonishing closer “Brother Sport,” but the album’s sound is used to tie these disparate themes together. This is a band at the heights of its powers, fully in command of its sound and its creative process, unafraid to try basically anything.