Merriweather Post Pavillion is such a colossal success that I find myself simultaneously overwhelmed and at a loss for words. I can’t separate the visceral from the critical: This album is awesome, incredible, awe-inspiring, phenomenal, breathtaking. I’m trying to articulate the integral beauty of “My Girls”, yet all that comes to mind are synonyms for unprecedented and astonishing. The process of “reviewing” each song feels wrong, diametrically opposed to the positive spirit that the album espouses. When a release is this good, why bother deconstructing each harmony or intention? How can I possibly describe Animal Collective’s perfected aesthetic?
Derek (Editor of The Tripwire) insists on being critical and balanced, but I somehow can’t -- I listen to this album incessantly as I lay at home nursing my two-week old bronchitis, yet still feel an irrepressible surge of jubilation. Merriweather is a contagious celebration of daily life and the mundane -- it is impossible not to feel apart of the optimism.
Beginning with “In the Flowers”, Dave Portner’s (aka Avey Tare) airy wondering and light guitar-plucking overlay hand-claps and a relentless air of anticipation until it hits at 2:30: “If I could just leave my body for a while.” We have now been launched into a musical stratosphere of exhilaration and vigor and confusion. We will not leave this area for roughly the next 55 minutes. In comes the shiny-pop “My Girls”, where Person Pitch and the token AC sound meet, which will tempt the remix urges of DJs and producers alike. Deep bass commences “Also Frightened”, where the vocals of Avey Tare and Noax Lennox (aka Panda Bear) weave into another until they finally ask: “Are you also frightened?” So in the opening three tracks, we hear psychedelia, 80s-style pop, Afro-beats, dub and folk. A musical kaleidoscope, indeed.
The idea of “accessibility” lies at the crux of the AC debate and Merriweather will be the album that transcends this criteria. The raspy yelps of Avey Tare are nearly forgotten and idle ambient tracks that characterized older AC are eschewed. Though far from “conventional”, this album sees the band appropriating their signature sound while including new ideas and nuances. Look no further than “No More Runnin’”, the bedroom soul ballad (yes, an AC ballad) promoting the stunning vocalization of its lead singers. Or the sing-a-long summer anthem “Brothersport”, fusing Brian Wilson’s tropics with AC neurosis.
The lyricism on the album conveys an older band, yet one no less excitable. Themes of partnership and family preside over these tracks accompanied by an acute sense of self-awareness: “There isn't much that I feel I need/ A solid soul and the blood I bleed." They’re not trying for the abstract or the oblique, they’re singing of what they know. On “Summertime Clothes”, the line “I want to walk around with you” sounds so sincere and familiar that it verges on the profound. On “No More Runnin’”, the promise is full-fledged relational commitment, and the harmonies of the chorus are perhaps the album’s most humbling and awing moment. “I really want to show my girl that I need her,” sings Lennox, the lyric serving as a microcosm for the entire album.
Animal Collective never had anything to prove. A group of avant-garde musicians from Baltimore playing “freak-folk” or “psych-folk” (or whatever you want to call it) never seem destined for international greatness. The music was too esoteric, too abrasive, and too inaccessible for the mainstream, let alone an expansive fan base. Sure, critical acclaim within a particular niche was achieved through a variety of different sounds and albums. Merriweather transgresses all of these sounds and arrives at a sort of middle ground. A little less anxious, a little more plain-spoken, this release will reach a wider audience than any other. Ultimately, for all Animal Collective fans, Merriweather Post Pavilion is a gracious and generous offering, a culmination of a fantastic career that will deservingly send this band into greater acclaim.