If Animal Collective‘s latest effort were edible, it would be the most popular hallucinogen on the market. Simply put, Merriweather Post Pavilion is one hell of a trip. Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox, David “Avey Tare” Portner, and Brian “Geologist” Weitz (I guess Deakin is on vacation) have done something special with their latest effort, and it would be hard and downright wrong to say otherwise. Of course, the boys that make up the eclectic Baltimore outfit have always been an interestingly unique and perplexing force, from their lo-fi psych folk experimentation on Spirit They’re Gone Spirit They’ve Vanished to 2007′s double whammy of Panda Bear’s sample based Person Pitch and the Collective’s electro infused Strawberry Jam. Always ambitious and inventive, the group has made vast changes in style and sound (remember acoustic guitars?) throughout their near nine year existence, never repeating themselves and continually refusing to care what anybody thinks (see last year’s performance on Conan). Still, no matter how amazing or confusing any of the group’s back catalog may be, it will henceforth be Merriweather Post Pavilion that will stand as their career defining effort, at least until its follow-up is released. This much is obvious as it is the culmination of everything that came before it.
Where Sung Tongs and Feels wandered and drifted, Merriweather is concise and determined, and where Strawberry Jam and Person Pitch introduced the electronic foundation into the mix, Merriweather takes it to another level, nearly convincing us that everything that preceded it was just a warm-up lap. Likewise, elements from each and every one of the group’s previous albums are here, however it is the synthesis of all these ingredients that makes it all so exhilarating. Merriweather definitely further extends the more electronic direction that the collective took with Strawberry Jam-noisy electronic loops and samples, rolling climactic drum beats, overpowering synthesizers, numerous effects pedals, etc.- yet much has changed in just under two years.
Gone first and foremost are the previously ever-present yelps and screams from Avey Tare, once a cornerstone of the Animal Collective sound. Some will undoubtedly miss those raspy yells, but the end result of the change is magnificent enough to make them just as easily forget that they were ever there in the first place. Instead, Panda Bear and Avey work together, creating near perfection by interweaving their similar yet respectively distinct vocalizations. With this move alone, it is clear that the boys have chosen lushness over chaos, at least in the vocal department. Additionally, the vocals now take a half-step down from the foreground, and instead echo around, contributing to the atmospheric wall of sound created by numerous samples and virtually inexplicable ornate “instrumentation.” This, however, does not compromise their gorgeously catchy melodies or beautiful harmonies, something that the fellas have always brought to the table. Stunning, hummable melodies harmonize with one another and mesh into layer upon layer of vast electronic blips and miscellaneous sounds. The songcraft alone is awe-inspiring enough to make many amateur songwriters simply give up altogether.
It might be only a week into the year, but I would be hard pressed to find a better album opener in 2009 than “In The Flowers”, a track that begins with haunting looped grunts but slowly unveils itself as a colorful pop song, equipped with unforgettable vocal melodies and a hair raising, eye widening drum pounding climax. From its first few seconds, the album immediately launches into an ultra-sunny trip through sub aquatic, organic, electro infused psychedelic soundscapes that borrow from the Beach Boys as much as they do African tribal and tropicalia. It is a journey that remains consistent and cohesive throughout its 54 brilliant minutes. Still no word on why they titled the full-length after the Columbia, MD venue of the same name, but I think I speak for all of us when I say that any Marylander should be proud that the guys are drawing some positive musical attention to our fair state. It is an astonishing collection of charming and clever songs that you have to hear to believe.
If Hendrix wore an acid soaked headband, then AC’s Lennox, Portner, and Weitz wear drenched full body suits. Yes, it is safe to say the lads have reached psychedelic perfection, and not by following the rules. The boys of Animal Collective have mapped out some previously uncharted waters, producing a style of music that could belong to no one else; a distinctive, flawless fusion of the semi- automated and the wholly organic. Psychedelic music has never sounded like this before, and it is safe to say that from here on out it will never be the same. If this is your first experience with Animal Collective, don’t be afraid to dive in through the ripples, just know that you may never want to resurface.