A very palpable hit.
Chris Jones 2009-01-12
Animal Collective's ninth album (no slackerdom for these Baltimore post-hippies!) has been so hotly anticipated that there's a danger of assessing their unclassifiable noise as nothing short of the second coming. Luckily the combination of Beach Boys harmonies, post-minimal dynamics and psychedelic free fall which has won them such a cult reputation breaks free here and takes full flight. Merriweather Post Pavilion is, you suspect, an album that you will return to for years to come.
It's an ecstatic sound that springs from going beyond conventional methodology. In the same way that, say, Brian Eno's Here Come The Warm Jets sounded like a rock album recorded by someone who had never heard rock (or even had an idea how what instruments to use) - Animal Collective deal in a love of sound for sound's sake. Beyond a basic grasp of the nuts and bolts of modern music they see no reason not to indulge in the kind of smorgasbord that still manages the neat trick of avoiding contrivance. Summertime Clothes begins with fuzz guitar loops and children's cries before descending into electro arpeggios. Elsewhere synth's chatter like Philip Glass on mushrooms, school bells ring, tribal drums mutter and over it all the joyous voice of Avey Tare (David Portner) - a sort of post-modern Jon Anderson, if you will - declaims obliquely. For instance, Taste seems to be a Buddhist meditation on the illusory nature of ego ("Am I really all the things that are outside of me?"): but don't quote me on that.
While the album's title references the Collective's formative years listening to the Grateful Dead in the Frank Gehry-designed auditorium in Maryland, the sound is less jam band than cut and paste collage. There's a distinctly more careful approach to the vocals here than on previous albums. Harmonies are sweeter, the repetition and processing are more subtle.
In terms of the band's development it's a giant step forward. In the same way that The Flaming Lips psychedelia was transmuted on Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Merriweather Post Pavilion should easily see this square-pegness finally slipping into the round hole of wider appeal. In other words: a very palpable hit.