Everyone who writes about Sasquatch! talks about the natural beauty of the Gorge, how whatever band they happen to be writing about will sound spectacular in that remarkable setting, their music wafting (always "wafting") through the warm spring air, etc. So bear with me when I say that—real talk—Animal Collective are going to sound fucking phenomenal out there in the sunshine or the hail or whatever the weather throws at them. The Baltimore band's latest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is a masterpiece of harmony-laden, electronically addled pop oddities big and airy and epic enough to fill any summertime arena—whether real, remembered, or imagined.
The band planned it that way. The title Merriweather Post Pavilion comes from a Maryland arena of the same name (itself named after Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune and at one time the wealthiest woman in America). "We used to go to shows there while growing up and have fond memories of times spent on the lawn," the band explain in text included with the album. "For most of the time we've been playing together, both in Animal Collective and the years before, we've tried to make music that would be deserving of an amazing outdoor listening experience."
But if you had told me just a few years ago, back when the band were touring with noise-scapers Black Dice and yelping nonsense as often as they were doing fractured acoustic folk, that Animal Collective would go on to produce a pop album as summery and perfect and emotionally rich as Merriweather Post Pavilion, I would have just made derisive squawking noises at you through a chain of effects pedals. (On that tour with Black Dice, in Seattle, Animal Collective played at Neumos, and it felt like a dark, dank cave—how better it will be to see them out in the open air and to breathe!) In 2005, though, Animal Collective increasingly started pushing pop songs through their unique set of sonic filters with their sixth studio album, Feels (relatively trad-rocking), its 2007 sequel, Strawberry Jam (bracing psychedelic sing-along), and most notably on band member Panda Bear's (aka Noah Lennox) intervening solo album, Person Pitch (shades of Brian Wilson smeared against ambient jams).
These efforts, both in synthesizing pop into Animal Collective's more irregular audio routines and in growing their sound to pavilion proportions, reach their apotheosis on Merriweather. Avey Tare's (aka David Portner) sometimes-wild vocal barking has been tamed into Pet Sounds–echoing harmonies; acoustic and electric guitars have been fully replaced by glittering synth arpeggios; Geologist (aka Brian Weitz) deploys his slurred samples and found sounds more artfully than ever; everything sounds like it's hanging suspended in midair, like helium or heat, events unfolding in dreamtime; and it all happens over a bed of thumping rhythms that are equal parts tribal drum-circle frolic and dirty MPC trunk-rattle. It's an album that successfully combines jimmy psychedelia and tasteful obscurantism; it should appeal equally well to Sasquatch's split demographic of footbagging hippie festives and sunscreen-slathered hipsters.
Just as appropriate to the summer season of festivals and vacations is the album's overarching lyrical theme: the pull between grown-up concerns and Animal Collective's oft-mined sense of childlike wonder, between the ordinary world and a deep-seated desire for the transcendent. (What else is a summer festival but an excuse to escape from the everyday?) Throughout the album, worries about mundane material things (and about how much one ought to worry about them), like providing a home and a stroller for one's family (Portner and Lennox are both married; Lennox has a daughter) or the relative importance of one's record collection to one's sense of self (all the Animal Collective guys are at prime quarter-life crisis age), come clashing up against images of ecstatic, even literally animal, abandon: a dancer "high in a field," a lion laid out in a coma dreaming of a sensual existence.
"Guys Eyes" neatly illustrates this life/ elsewhere tension, its singer torn between wanting to achieve some pure, natural state of being ("I really want to do just what my body needs to") and wanting to be less of a child/animal and show fidelity and love to his girl ("If I could just purge all the urges that I have and keep them for you"). It's also a pretty impressive song structurally: Sounds and vocals (gentle, wooshing bass thrum, distended doo-wop echoes, piano and percussive clatter) pour in like water filling up a stopped sink, only for the plug to be pulled midway through and everything to go circling down around a refrain of "(I) need her"; then the whole thing flips over, like an hourglass, and does it again, this time funneling through the words "I want to."
The brightest moments of the album are when these two worlds collide, when the daily routine reveals rivers of joy, and no song here does that better or with more acute seasonal feel than "Summertime Clothes." The song starts with what sounds like kids playing out on a street, then a loping loop of tuneful distortion set to a muffled bass pulse, then sing-song vocals and tinkling keys and an echoing faucet's drip. The lyrics are a sweet, simple invitation to go for a walk to beat the stifling heat indoors (a perfectly invoked NYC heat—muggy, sweltering, smelling of trash):
Sweet summer night and I'm stripped to my sheets
Forehead is leaking, my A/C squeaks
And a voice from the clock says you're not gonna get tired
My bed is a pool and the walls are on fire
I soak my head in the sink for a while
Chills on my neck and it makes me smile, but
My bones have to move and my skin's gotta breathe
You pick up the phone and I'm so relieved
Even out at the Gorge, with no apartment demanding escape, in Washington's relatively temperate climate, on a weekend that isn't technically summer yet, this song will be the motherfucking jam. You'll feel as unbound from the world back home as Animal Collective's expansive, aerial sounds are from the tethering conventions of pop music, as summertime is from the gray rest of the year.
This story has been updated since its original publication.