The phrase “critical darlings,” however cliché it is, receives much use in the music community. In the past several years, Baltimore-based Animal Collective has been possibly the biggest recipient of that idiom with numerous appearances on year-end Top 10 lists and worldly praise from bloggers and critics alike. From “Sung Tongs” to “Strawberry Jam,” Animal Collective has created not only a distinctive and unique sound but contributed to a growing genre (freak folk) that is now influential within indie scenes across the country.
On Animal Collective’s new offering “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” devoted fans will not only see the elements of pop musings brought forth in 2007’s “Strawberry Jam” but a combination of the sonic excursions from preceding albums.
“Merriweather Post Pavilion” focuses heavily on the vocals of members Avey Tare and Panda Bear in addition to an emphasis on melody in place of dissonance. Previously and notably with “Feels” and “Sung Tongs,” part of the Animal Collective listening experience involved making sense of the layers and layers of cacophonous rhythms that has defined the genuine Animal Collective sound.
“Merriweather Post Pavilion” seemingly dismisses, for the listener, the “freak” aspects of its sound by bringing forth pulsating, harmonious beats and verses rivaling the tunes of Mike Love and Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame. No surprise there as “Pet Sounds” was more or less a primary source for Panda Bear’s radiant 2007 solo effort “Person Pitch” and, to some extent, “Strawberry Jam.”
“Brothersport” and “My Girls” evoke the most formidable examples of the band’s prior experiments with noise along with recent attempts to broaden the spectrum of its sound. “Brothersport,” as cheerful-sounding as it is, provides layers of noise to back Panda Bear’s literal proclamations. “Brothersport” is classic Animal Collective. If any song were to break Animal Collective, even slightly, into the mainstream bubble, it would be (arguably) the album’s best track, “My Girls,” with its bouncy beats and infectious commentary on unselfishness, wanting “four walls and adobe slabs for my girls.”
“Summertime Clothes” best describes the themes of the album as a whole: heavy, pulsating bass, systematic song structures and a somewhat muted sense of liveliness. In fact, this is definitely Animal Collective’s most thumping album to date; the shrieks and screeches as seen on “Grass” (from 2005’s “Feels”) are noticeably lacking. “Guy’s Eyes,” possibly the quintessential Animal Collective love song, depicts the common desires associated with infatuation.
Amidst all the praise and favoritism the band has already received in past offerings, “Merriweather Post Pavilion” stands out as an absolutely phenomenal listen. For many fans, this is the album that they have wanted Animal Collective to make all along.
Fans have appreciated the band’s experimental journeys in noise and dissonance but have longed for that album to simply pop into their stereo, throw on their headphones and be immersed in immediately. For some fans that thrive upon the time and effort needed to appreciate a record, this may be disconcerting.
If anything, the existence of “Merriweather Post Pavilion” only makes the band’s previous outings more enjoyable and accessible as the listener can trace the roots and progress accumulated by their current sound. However, Animal Collective has shown over the course of its catalog an undeniable potential to create something melodically substantial, yet remain enveloped in an avant-garde persona. That album is here and Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist and Deakin can be justified in embracing their “darling” status.