Merriweather Post Pavilion
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Every generation, every decade has that one key album. You know that album: the definitive musical representation of EVERYTHING that comes and goes or came and went, the invaluable summation of an era. The revisited and reexamined gem that inspires debate upon debate for years after its initial impact sent shockwaves through our collective consciousness. The album that knocks the appreciators onto their pompous asses. THAT album.
As decade 00 comes to a close, you have to wonder if you’ve heard that album yet, or if it’s something that will be established once decade 10 begins, hindsight being a key factor in all of that “importance,” “seminal” bullshit anyway. Not even two full months’ worth of hindsight later, Animal Collective’s latest electr-avant offering, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is already widely considered the best album of the year, guaranteed to place highly on every end-of-2009 roundup. And, it probably deserves to be.
Obviously swept up in the vast backpacked and bespectacled whirlpool of indie/hipster mania, Merriweather Post Pavilion has found itself in the same position as TV On The Radio’s overblown, Dear Science: primed to be the career defining culmination of their vision; their Sgt. Pepper, their Pet Sounds. Hearing what Animal Collective had in mind, the title of their album connected to the sentimental experience of seeing shows at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in their native Maryland, the whole point was to create an album good enough to perform at the revered venue. This being their ninth album in nine years, a milestone album was inevitable.
Whereas MPP is a more challenging and eccentric listen than Dear Science, MPP’s accessibility makes it just as subject to scrutiny. Past albums, (Sung Tongs and Strawberry Jam especially) have seemed to thrive on the Collective’s love of retro-folk, psychedelic revivalism and then later sampler driven strangeness, commanding an open mind and a certain amount of endurance from their audience. This time around, Animal Collective has dispensed with the folk to a degree and has totally turned toward these space aged carnival jams that glow like wondrous children and bounce with fairytale charm. It’s almost off-putting in its glee, but much more welcoming and pleasant to the eardrum. Even when opener, “In The Flowers,” rings out with celebratory anthemic exuberance or “Summertime Clothes” gets the blood pumping with its cold machined rhythm, MPP is dopamine on wax. Soothing. Joyous. Worthy of a hammock and a Long Island iced tea with a heavy straw and a paper umbrella, tasty waves and a Corona beach.
So, this poses the question: Is MPP good because it’s a product of realized creative vision, or because more people can get behind it?
Recording as a trio this time around, (guitarist, Deakin (Josh Dibb) sitting this one out…possibly kicking himself), Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Geologist (Brian Weitz) combine this magical array of found sounds with voice, leaving the human elements to convey its passion. As calculated and programmed as it is, MPP is still warm and emotional, twisting its sometimes trite observations (“I’m getting lost in your curls” as stated in the pulsating cheese popped “Bluish”) into sentimental jewelry to behold. Before it became my life, something as personal as “My Girls” might’ve inspired involuntary vomiting on my part, but now it’s relatable and genuine.
Whatever Animal Collective does musically on MPP, it’s more of a vocal album. With the jovial and consistent bounce in “Also Frightened,” or the scattered organ passages in “Daily Routine,” Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s singing provides the draw, taking interesting routes over perpetual motion. Even the sci-fi polka of “Taste,” with its wisps of droid buzz and prancing blips vying for attention, its repetitious question, “Am I really all the things that are outside of me?” achieve its intended impact. It seems the only time the machined elements are allowed to remain at the forefront is with the closing “Brother Sport,” a looped selection of chugging and churning gears rolling midway through the song. “No More Runnin’” takes a “Stand By Me” approach, slow and soulful.
The mix only seems to regress with the dull and overwrought “Guys Eyes” and Sung Tongs-straggler, “Lion In A Coma,” neither song feeling as impassioned as the rest of the album, or personable.
As it is, Animal Collective remains superstars of an underground circuit, far from the hit-machines and predictable FM playlists. Even if MPP’s reach seeps past the familiar boundaries of the indie sanctuary, their reputations will remain intact. Besides, even if it is accessible, Merriweather Post Pavilion is still too weird to be considered pedestrian.
Letters From A Tapehead