Merriweather Post Pavilion
In 2003, when Animal Collective released Here Comes the Indian, it was almost inconceivable that these feral upstarts would attain the critics'-darling status and commercial popularity that they enjoy now. On that album, Animal Collective comported themselves like enchanted savages, ranging from unhinged chants to inchoate melodic beauty. They reveled in unpredictability and made their lack of virtuosity a virtue. Gradually, over the five-plus years since then, Animal Collective have smoothed their edges, tempered their wildness, secured studio time with savvy producers who salubriously filled out their sound, and figured out how to write "proper" songs. Hence, we find Merriweather Post Pavilion snagging a 9.6 rating from Pitchfork and you, avid Animal Collective fan, furiously trawling the internet seeking leaks of this highly anticipated work long before its official release date (and finding instead many, many Rickrolls).
Here's where all the people who really loved Animal Collective's early stuff are supposed to shout, "Sellout!" But as much as I admire Indian and other primordial AC efforts like Danse Manatee and Campfire Songs, I can't hate on Merriweather's comparative slickness and "maturity." The band—a trio here, minus guitarist Josh "Deakin" Dibb—really do synthesize and maximize their skills on this new full-length, their ninth altogether, while maintaining their innate oddness. Don't worry, Top-40 types will still wrinkle their noses at Merriweather.
The bulk of Merriweather finds David "Avey Tare" Portner and Noah "Panda Bear" Lennox honing their intricate vocal interplay to a thrilling science. Whether through practice or studio trickery, they've approached the masterly harmonic sophistication of the Fab Four and the Boys of Beach. "In the Flowers" starts the album in the lush, glazed-wonder aura of post–See You on the Other Side–era Mercury Rev. You'd be forgiven for thinking Dave Fridmann produced this song (Ben Allen actually worked the knobs for Merriweather). Anyway, "In the Flowers" effervescently ascends in a hushed rush, stopping for interludes of aching poignancy that will please Beirut fans. Clearly, Animal Collective have moved far beyond Indian's spontaneous rawness.
"My Girls" begins with tingling arpeggios seemingly played on a xylophone made of icicles before launching into what sounds like Why?'s Yoni Wolf singing "Sloop John B"—utterly charming. "Also Frightened" is a stunted waltz suffused in shimmering keyboard glitter and beautiful, stacked vocal harmonies à la the Beatles' "Good Day Sunshine." The song is at once weirdly woozy and overwhelmingly joyous: a difficult feat to achieve. "Summertime Clothes" overflows with euphoria; it's a surging, skewed pop song garlanded with ghost choirs, distant hand claps, and throbbing bass. It should be Animal Collective's first hit single.
Beach Boy Dennis Wilson and Tricky circa Maxinquaye appear to be the inspiration for "No More Runnin," which represents the disc's peak of pathos. More stripped down than most of the album, "Runnin" is simultaneously downtrodden and uplifting, bathed in a sunset glow, Pacific Ocean Blue splashes, and pot haze. Album closer "Brother Sport" exemplifies AC's balance between accessibility and innovation. Looped wheezes pulsate amid happy-hardcore keyboard parps and Amazonian, Kodo-like drum tumult; as it progresses, the song threatens to explode with sonic overload. It's as if Animal Collective are trying to rally the human race out of its imminent mental nadir through this song. If things don't improve this year, world governments probably should consider making "Brother Sport" their national anthem.
After more exposure to Merriweather Post Pavilion, it's possible to think Pitchfork actually underrated it.