Their ninth full-length. The whoops and hollers that previously held together the sublime, chaotic urgency of their earlier work now signal the calm sense of euphoria and wonder that ripples through this wide eyed record.
Metacritic : 8.9/10
Uncut : 10/10
By STEPHEN TROUSSÉ
Animal Collective's new album is named after the Frank Gehry-designed ampitheatre in Maryland where as highschool kids they saw the bands – notably the Grateful Dead - that first blew their minds. Choosing such a title (which they now share with a Jerry Garcia Band live album), might suggest that the AC are simply acknowledging that, for all their outsider art beginnings and freaky enthusiasms, their burgeoning cult now places them, after the Dead and Pavement, quite squarely in the grand tradition of American jam-bands.
“In The Flowers”, the first track on Merriweather Post Pavilion, could even be a memory of some distant “Dark Star” freak out. It starts out, with the psychfolk shimmer and swirl of last album but one Feels, as a kind of fried reverie, envying the rapturous abandon of a girl dancing in a field, “high on her own movement”. But then, as Avey Tare wistfully sings “If I could just leave my body for a night...” the track erupts into an astonishing, galloping Phillip Glass flamenco-techno reel. Eventually, when the boom of the bass and the drums subsides, the track comes back down with the early hours walk home as “the ecstasy turns to rising light...”
Understandably in light of such lines, people are already talking up MPP as the AC's E album – the moment when the wild-eyed animists of alt.folk start raving. But with the group's long-standing ritualistic interests, you could just as easily interpet their ecstasy in the etymological, ancient Greek sense of frenzied transcendence, of “standing outside oneself”.
Whether this bliss is chemical or shamanic, what's clear is that Animal Collective have truly surpassed themselves. MPP isn't just an advance on Sung Tongs and Feels – it feels like that moment in Star Wars when the Millennium Falcon jumps into hyperspace and all the stars go wild.
Though they've been filed as part of the freak-folk fold, the band have long maintained they've more in common with electronic acts - the sumptuous minimalism of Luomo or the pop-ambient of the Kompakt label. And on earlier records, and particularly Panda Bear's sublime Person Pitch, you could sort of imagine them as a kind of bizarre Amish techno act – emulating digital dance music without electricity, but with acoustic guitars, vocal harmonies and tape loops. On MPP they now sound electrified: AC fully plugged into the DC, anchoring their fluttering reverbed chants with seismic beats and bass.
Second track, “The Girls”, is the perfect demonstration of their new resources. Rippling waves of synths are pounded by Aaron Copland bass drums as Panda Bear/Noah Lennox multitracks his voice into a call and response choir. In what almost seems like an apology for the song's irresistable pop momentum, he sings about how he doesn't care for material things and just wants four walls for wife and daughter.You suspect the song could quite easily become a huge crossover hit on the scale of say, “Born Slippy” ten years ago – in which case the girls won't have to worry too much about holes in the roof.
The wonders keep coming. “Summertime Clothes” is a delirious number about walking the streets on nights when it's too hot to sleep, with Avey singing “I want to walk around with you!”, in a way reminiscent of the plain, profound joy of Arthur Russell's “Let's Go Swimming”. Indeed at times, MPP feels like the AC have managed to shake all of the fugitive fragments of Russell's remarkable career – from fragile folkpop to disco trance and buddhist bubblegum – into a brilliant kaleidoscopic design of their own.
The infatuated “Bluish” meanwhile manages to synthesise the dazzled awe of Mercury Rev circa “Carwash Hair”, the lucid languor of Primal Scream's “Higher Than The Sun” and the sun-spangled melody of Brian Wilson. And yet listing references almost seems beside the point; there's no sense of pastiche, everything feels utterly, unmistakeably absorbed into the Animal Collective universe.
There's not a weak or wasted track here, but the final two are magnificent: “No More Runnin”, a more down-tempo, dreamy number, comes on like a tropicalized Beach Boys, transposing their harmonies from the California coast to a lazy river meandering through some Rousseau-esque rainforest. And the closing “Brother Sport” is sensational, exploding like a psychedelic carnival parade, culminating in a polyphonic spree of endless chattering loops.
It’s hard to overstate Animal Collective’s achievement on this record. They’ve made a dance record, out of evident love of the latest digital developments , but it’s a dance record with an odd, distant hint of Sousa marching bands. They’ve made a blissed-out rave record, but one with touches of Terry Riley’s all-night minimalist trances. It’s a rare contemporary album that sounds like it couldn't have been made at any other time or by any other band.
Maybe the overwhelming, full-throated joy of it all sounds particularly radiant in the fluey gloom of winter, but right now Merriweather Post Pavilion doesn't just seem like one of the first great records of 2009, it feels like one of the landmark American albums of the century so far.
No Ripcord : 10/10
By Tom Whalen 5 January, 2009
“(M)uch of this is pure hype… a social version of the TV quiz show where contestants are asked to guess not the true answer to a question, but the answer that polls have shown most people believe is true…” from “The Last President of the United States,” an essay by Greil Marcus, first published in Artforum in 1985
The currency of hype, the elephant in the bedroom of contemporary music writing, is difficult to schematize, but I would say that it roughly equates to word-of-mouth, plus the apparatuses of journalism, plus a special x-factor. Most bands associated with the h-word have x-factors that involve an aggregate of various extra-musical marginalia, like shticks, fashions, geographies, back-stories, unifying visual aesthetics… the stuff that we writers use to fatten our paragraphs and self-aggrandize our profession without having to go through the trouble of listening to anything too closely. Unless you count cryptic internet press-releases, fake names, and optical illusions (I might not blame you), Animal Collective dropped most of their serious shtick when they stopped wearing masks. Their x-factor is a rare one: they make fantastic, unique, relentlessly singular records with a regularity that suggests an enchanted acumen. You probably don’t need me to tell you that Merriweather Post Pavilion is yet another of these. So why are we so excited? When are we going to start taking this band for granted?
“(if you're into Fleet Foxes this is like an electronic version from Brooklyn)” – from an Amazon user review of MPP credited to Sister Moon
Like the nuances of hype, the consensus that creates “universal acclaim” is impossible to telegraph, yet the sacrosanct merits of universality pervade the way that we talk about music. Ergo, Fleet Foxes: the grounds for this record’s copious year end accolades seem more firmly rooted in its alleged universal appeal than in the quality of its music. Certainly the nature of the music is factored in, with the album being touted as a time capsule from a great American past that no one has ever experienced but have somehow remembered upon hearing. The underlying assumption is clear: the essence of Fleet Foxes resides in Plato's realm of the forms; we all know it when we hear it, even if we can't put our finger on it. A question, if I may beg: what came first, the acclaim or the (instant) classic?
I'm being a tad bit facetious, of course. Perhaps I'm comfortable with overstating the raves of Fleet Foxes because I am in the minority of people who find the record incredibly underwhelming. I would love nothing more than to earnestly occupy this same dissenting minority with regard to Merriweather Post Pavilion; my review angle would be crystal clear and I evidently love the contrarian shtick. MPP will surely hold steady as one of 2009's touchstones, one whose exclusion from lists of year-end-bests would represent a more profound gesture than its inclusion. Yet here I am, haplessly enveloped into the nebulous realm of "universal acclaim," kicking my pebble of praise at the foot of the imminent mountain...
"We don't have a word for it… It's our own form of soul music.” - Panda Bear, speaking on Animal Collective’s musical style, from an interview with the Jerusalem Post in October of 2008
The first song on Merriweather Post Pavilion is called In the Flowers and it begins with a vision in passing: Avey Tare is on his way home when he spies a boy, stoned and care free, dancing in a field. Where this scene might normally typify the AC aesthetic, all bucolic wonder and unfettered elation, here Tare appears as if confronted with an alien spectacle: he’s got something on his mind (his wife, his absence from her life, his longing for her embrace) that renders him unable to crib off the dancer’s joy. Tare simply cannot reconcile his own sadness with a space where another human can be so happy; anyone who has experienced any degree of depression would surely understand this, and marvel accordingly at the turn that follows.
A classic escapist incantation (“If I could just leave my body for the night”) announces a rapturous sound blast, the plaintive haze of the song’s opening minutes exploding with drums and synthesizers. Tare consoles himself in tune, seeing the dance anew: “Then we could be dancing no more missing you while I am gone / Then we could be dancing and you’d smile and say I like this song / And then ours would meet them we will recognize nothing’s wrong." (Before I took the effort to look up the lyrics I had misplaced that first line, hearing it as “Then he could be dancing over missing you all along,” a line that I prefer to the one provided and have come to consider as an incidental nuance to the actual lyrics. At points the singing style, the full mouthed annunciation, seems to invite this kind of alternate hearing, this accidental multi-valence).
On In the Flowers, Avey Tare chooses creativity and empathy over bitterness and jealousy, refracts his sadness into tribute, takes the lemons he's been sitting on, squeezes them dry, quenches his thirst, and blows his own mind. Domesticity and romance have never sounded as ecstatic and radical as they do on Merriweather Post Pavilion. I never imagined myself as the kind of person who would swoon over a song about wanting nothing more than a house for the wife and kids, but boy do I swoon over My Girls. Such is AC's knack for de-familiarization, for projecting the seemingly banal through the prism of aural love. For as long as their lyrics have been (relatively) audible Animal Collective have written about peering at the little things in life with your third eye, and these circus mirror creature comforts have never seemed as urgent and splendid as they do on Merriweather Post Pavilion. This ain’t your daddy’s growin’ a lil' older n’ gettin’ a lil wiser record. Not by a hot mile.
“Even when a random poster says 'this could be Pet Sounds for 2009' you know there's a special sort of buzz going on.” - from a post on Kanyelive.com forum credited to Porcelain
It is no surprise that the rise of Animal Collective’s star has coincided quite neatly with the group’s mounting interest in (relatively) conventional song form, a development to which MPP is a momentary apex (of course, this peak may very well be a red herring: like each recent AC record, this one begs the question: where the hell will they go from here?) I think that the Beach Boys comparisons, inadequate as they may be in fully reckoning with the whole muse of this group, have been a way of articulating the band’s embrace of more palatable modes of song and composition, a shift that was first announced with 2004’s Sung Tongs full length.
While it is a misleading to impose a trajectory of "evolution" on a band that stubbornly resists aesthetic stasis, that re-imagines its own sound with every subsequent offering, both Sung Tongs and MPP appear as prominent turning points, records where Animal Collective’s balance of soundcraft and songcraft are radically revised. That said, it is a testament to AC’s unwillingness to rest on anything resembling the formulaic that Sung Tongs and MPP sleep head to toe despite their shared implications. On SungTongs the vocal tracks bleed as their own music, more textural than communicative. By contrast, MPP is easily the group's most lyrical record, with the vocals forwarding an impressionistic, piecemeal pseudo-narrative while maintaining their instrumental weight, syllables both meaning and gleaming. Where Sung Tongs stretched a small handful of ideas and flourishes into a larger work through the force of entranced repetition, MPP commands a diverse and seemingly inexhaustible catalogue of sounds and stacks them high, the sheer weight of their sonic language defying its own gravity, like a Babel collapsing in reverse.
Of course, this new album’s most glaring retread from its predecessors is its instrumentation. On MPP the guitars that were so prominent on Sung Tongs have all but evaporated; if there are any strings present, they are so heavily treated that they bear none of the earthen timber that was an essential texture in the group’s earlier music. MPP is a dense studio record with a prominent synthetic pulse, but AC does not jettison warmth by leaning ‘lectronic, instead defying the sterility associated with its own techniques. Where the likes of Kraftwerk, Ministry, and Nurse with Wound often flaunt the inhumanity of machine music, on MPP Animal Collective stake a claim in the other direction, unlocking a human potential in each knob that they tweak, casting a sonic sensibility whose romance mirrors the album’s lyrical fascination with the rapture of the small and commonplace. This is Meadow Machine Music. Autobalm.
“(T)oday’s principle activities are alchemy and archaeology. The idea is that, if you pick the best bits from the past, combine them, mix and match them, dust them down and restore them fondly, then the result will be something better… this is ‘perfect pop,’ pop perfected, finished off.” - from “Indecency,” an essay by Simon Reynolds and David Stubbs, first published in Melody Maker in 1986
The premise of MPP as Animal Collective’s “pop” gesture will likely dog the record as its merits and significance are weighed in words over the coming weeks. But for AC pop – like drone, gospel, surf, avant-garde, soul, minimalism, electronica, ambient, and dance, all of which inform this record and none of which come close to defining its whole music -- is simply another way of carving a sound, not a sanding off, a mere compromise of inclinations towards strangeness and obscurity. For this group pop is not an end in and of itself but a medium, a portal on forward towards the new. It's as difficult to imagine Animal Collective congregating with the express purpose of making their “perfect pop masterpiece,” as legend tells us Brian Wilson did when dreaming up Pet Sounds, as it is easy to see them laughing in sheer bewilderment at the tense anticipation of their latest labor of love.
Today maker myths take mere nano-seconds to germinate, and though the turnover is great for our typing chops, I often wonder what it has done for the love of listening. Where the ghosts of great albums past take on larger-than-life status in retrospect, beginning with the music and ascending backwards into a formidable history of heard magic, today the music itself often appears secondary to the aura of magnitude and universality that tends to materialize without warning, instant and microwave safe. MPP had aura to burn long before most of us heard it, but now those of us who have heard it and do love it know that this music will not be content to stand idle on the margins of tuneless hype. Time may very well lend Merriweather Post Pavilion a legend extraordinary enough to faithfully capture its myriad treasures. By the time that happens, if it ever does and if we could even tell, Animal Collective will be somewhere else entirely, stoned and oblivious, making something new.
By Lewis EMERITUS, 2009-01-06
Summary: Merriweather Post Pavilion is an experience, an interactive pop album marrying every envelope Animal Collective has been pushing.
In a lot of ways Merriweather Post Pavilion isn’t just Animal Collective’s “pop” album or best album, it is also the most interactive. The band describes it as music worthy of outdoors listening- or, more specifically, the outdoor Maryland venue the album gets it title from- and they’re right on the money.
Animal Collective’s classic back catalogue, from the frosty textures in Sung Tongs to the abrasive freak-folk in Strawberry Jam, works on a larger scale than your normal band, but the music is still meant for bumping in your trunk or under the colored lights of a basement venue.
Merriweather Post Pavilion just proves Avey Tare and Panda Bear (real names David Portner and Noah Lennox, respectively) are expert songwriters, turning in a grandstand of production and editing. They achieve their feat, perfecting a sound they’ve been honing through nine studio albums, and it explodes with the sky in mind.
As an engaging and gripping pop album from front to back, Merriweather Post Pavilion could easily sustain a club for 55 minutes with the smooth framework that so effortlessly strings together 11 potential singles.
Avey Tare and Panda Bear are working harmoniously, becoming a rock band right before our eyes. Merriweather Post Pavilion has the breakout appeal which none of Animal Collective’s albums could reach before, bridging together a collection of standard-sized pop tunes that never sharpen their edges or step out of line. It all congeals into a modern tour-de-force of psychedelic pop, tribal folk, sonic electronics and whatever else comes to mind.
It begins with a rumble that ripples right through to the messy stampede, “Brothersport.” “In the Flowers” begins with strings pulsating through water, dripping in gothic textures before the spluttering water gives way to a ground shaking tribal pulse, Avey Tare’s distinct bubbly persona breaking through to deliver each smile-inducing lick of imaginative non-sequiturs (“She walked up with a flower and I cared”).
“My Girls” takes it a step further, building a cascading waterfall of synths and slight distancing to the vocals as the song leaps into its rallying verse and chorus, interspersed with the aforementioned handclaps and domestic commentary (“I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things like my social status / I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls”).
Maturing in both sound and on paper, the lyrics on Merriweather Post Pavilion touch upon all the corners of domestic life. On “Summertime Clothes,” offset by cheers, an asphalt-ground synth that breaks down into electro-pop beamed from space, Avey Tare enjoys the tender surprises of exploring a familiar terrain (“It doesn’t really matter; I’ll go where you feel / hunt for the breeze, get a midnight meal / I point in the windows, you point out the parks / rip off your sleeves and I’ll ditch my socks”).
Even as the songs grow longer, the sound fuller and darkly primitive, Merriweather Post Pavilion rings more emotion out of the tension inside those adobe slabs. “Daily Routine” recognizes the mundane ins-and-outs of an everyday cycle taking care of the brat in the backseat (“What can I do as traffic pass? / Guard my girl from muffler’s black gas”); “Guy’s Eyes,” the urges not satisfied in the lion’s den.
Which brings us to “Lion in a Coma,” the best Animal Collective song ever, tangling all the elements that the band has spread over nine studio albums and a splattering of other EPs, with an elastic didgeridoo that sets the tone for the mystical folklore quality to Panda Bear’s campfire chants, sparking an irresistible urge to move when his show stopping “lion in a coma” becomes, eerily, “lying in a coma.”
Merriweather Post Pavilion is an experience, an interactive pop album marrying every envelope Animal Collective has been pushing and opens them all at once, ending in a euphoric mesh of African pop and Panda Bear’s signature experimental repetition on “Brothersport,” a more-than-fitting closer to the euphoric trip that precedes it.
Merriweather Post Pavilion is heartbreaking and heartwarming, and you can either disregard what is one of the most pleasing, enjoyably rich and rewarding releases of the past decade or rally with the rest of us, and clap, sing and blare it through the earphones on our iPods because, as “Taste” so elegantly points out, we are still all the things outside of us.
Slant Magazine : 10/10
by Jonathan Keefe
Posted: January 19, 2009
n 1999, one of the preceding decade's most revered, experimental bands, the Flaming Lips, jettisoned some of the problematic, self-consciously fey trappings of their previous work and distilled the elements that worked best about their distinctive take on modern pop into song structures that were as accessible as they were adventurous. The Lips then unveiled their deliberately constructed, refined new sound on a landmark album, The Soft Bulletin, that was both influenced by and superior to the music of its era and which stands as one of the finest, most important and influential albums of its decade.
Ten years later, a nearly identical situation presents itself with Animal Collective's extraordinary Merriweather Post Pavilion. Beyond the sheer quality of its songcraft, the fundamental humanity of its content, and the balance of its experimental bent with pop conventions, perhaps the most important parallel that Merriweather draws to Soft Bulletin is in the way both records capture a newfound aesthetic maturity for their respective bands: This is the record on which Animal Collective learned how to edit their work with a sense of purpose and clarity of vision. Their twee masks and costumes have, thankfully, been gone for a couple of albums, but now the self-indulgent jam-band digressions, the ironic freak-folk posturing, and the lazy wordplays that have made their work fitfully insufferable have also been set aside. In their place, Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin, and the Geologist have reconciled their individual artistic impulses—most notably, Avey Tare's effervescence and Panda Bear's experimental use of multi-layered, repeated tracks—into a singular aesthetic that simply explodes beyond what their contemporaries are currently doing.
That isn't to say that Merriweather is not a product of its era; it is, in contrast, an of-the-moment cultural assessment. Optimism is once again in vogue—right, Sally Hawkins and Wall-E?—and it hardly seems like a coincidence that an album so steeped in positivity is set for release on the same day that a man who embodied hope and promised change will usher in a new political era. But things are rarely so simple, and Animal Collective—a band that, like the Polyphonic Spree, has formerly traded in equal parts sunshine and bullshit—tempers their worldview with a pragmatic sense of realism. Consider opener "In the Flowers": Avey Tare observes a girl whose euphoria he can't share because of his own loneliness, only to subsume that feeling into something genuinely sublime. "If I could just leave my body for the night," he sings, "then we could be dancing/No more missing you while I am gone…And you'd smile and say I like this song/And then ours would meet them/We will recognize nothing's wrong." The song works beautifully both as an ode to his wife and, more broadly, to the type of escapism the song's pulsing, tribal form provides.
The album's apparent embrace of domesticity only makes it timelier. When Panda Bear comments, "I don't mean to seem like I care about material things/I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls," on standout cut "My Girls," it's a perspective that rings true in the current economy. What makes these ideas—further expanded in tracks like "Daily Routine" and the delirious "Summertime Clothes"—work in context is that it feels as though Animal Collective is re-appropriating them from the political right. That domesticity has been part of a "values" platform for decades has given many of these ideas a decidedly conservative bent, but Animal Collective convey a real sense of joy in their proclamations that an appreciation for simplicity and the ability to find meaning in daily drudgery is not the exclusive domain of any one political party or social paradigm.
It's in that regard that Merriweather recalls the Flaming Lips at their best. There's a real humanity to the songs that makes them indelible. Panda Bear said in a recent interview that the band doesn't have a particular word for their latest work, but that "it's our own form of soul music." He's right: From the call-to-arms of closer "Brothersport" to the mysticism in the peculiar folklore of "Lion In a Coma," the album finds Animal Collective in constant marvel of, and gratitude for, both the world and the music that surrounds them. Soulful and almost structurally flawless (it's the most minor of complaints that the middle run of songs are all about a half-minute too long), Merriweather finds one of the most talented, most creative pop bands finally and gloriously figuring it all out.
Observer Music Monthly : 10/10
By Paul Mardles, Sunday 18 January 2009
Animal Collective are the Peter Pans of indie-rock. Four avant-garde thirtysomethings from Baltimore, whose stage names betray their regard for childhood, Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Geologist and Deakin have made eight albums of head-spinning, outré pop, the best of which evoke the fleeting highs of prepubescence when life is endowed with endless possibilities.
Even by their own exuberant standards, though, AC's ninth album is a dizzying knees-up that makes most music, indie rock or otherwise, sound both bloodless and pathetically timid. In short, it is the record Flaming Lips might have made if, after Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Wayne Coyne and co had retained their wonderment and embraced Afropop, techno, dub and rave.
Certainly Merriweather Post Pavilion is both ecstatic and informed by ecstasy, judging by the explosive opener In the Flowers, wherein singer Avey Tare seeks oblivion ("If I could just leave my body for the night"), and the hymnal techno of My Girls. Even the rapturous Summertime Clothes, perhaps the most accessible track in the group's oeuvre, chiefly since the words for once aren't buried in the mix, is anchored by a seething electronic riff.
All of which makes Merriweather a companion piece to Panda Bear's 2007 album Person Pitch which, thanks to its cosmic sensibility, graced untold end of year polls. This is just as good.
Delusions of Adequacy: 10/10
by Joe Davenport January 20, 2009
Animal Collective has always been a pop group. In the past the band focused its talent for crafting extremely catchy songs through different lenses that may have obscured this particular aspect of the music. On Here Comes the Indian it was tribal noise-rock, with Sung Tongs it was warped psychedelic folk. Feels saw Animal Collective channel 4AD groups such as The Cocteau Twins and early Lush before settling in to the decidedly more aggressive electronic splatter of Strawberry Jam. Those listeners that have been following the group’s trajectory up to this point should have been expecting that at some point the guard would be dropped and an unselfconscious stab at total pop would be made. Thus we get Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is not only the jewel in Animal Collective’s crown but most certainly a stand alone album that will come to define at least one faction of the American underground this decade. Holding it up to the light and checking for flaws, I could find none. The album as a whole is a model of perfection from start to finish in a time when other groups are content to crank out a handful of singles alongside stale filler.
Opening track “In the Flowers” is exemplary of several things Animal Collective has been growing into on previous releases. It begins with swirling sound effects that evoke an acidic take on classic Walt Disney movie soundtracks before Avey Tare leads the song into a section of bass heavy rave and pulsing crescendo with the line “if I could just leave my body for a night.” It’s jaw-droppingly effective. You might think that it couldn’t possibly get better after this but the band follows it with “My Girls,” a song that borrows elements from AC member Panda Bear’s 2007 solo album Person Pitch and marries repetition to a night time dance groove complete with whooping vocals and handclaps. The song appears to be concerned with providing “four walls and adobe slabs” for Panda’s wife and young daughter. A simple concept to be sure but here Animal Collective transform the mundane into the transcendent.
Beyond instrumentation, Merriweather is a marked advancement for the group in the realm of vocal dynamics, as well. Many listeners noted that, on Strawberry Jam, Avey Tare had emerged as somewhat of a frontman-figure for the group - this record offers balance. Avey is still the most prominent, if only sometimes because of how flamboyant his voice really is, but Panda’s right there with him for many of the tracks, offering a comforting, gauzy counterpart to Avey’s punch, which is best represented by the duo’s play on “Summertime Clothes.”
The back-to-back punch of “Daily Routine” and “Bluish” might be the single best pairing of complimentary songs in the Animal Collective catalog. The former is all Panda Bear accompanied by what sounds like messy keyboards at first that miraculously tighten their focus when he starts singing. “Bluish,” like “Summertime Clothes” shows Panda and Avey teaming up with Avey taking the verses only to have the chorus fleshed out by Panda’s beautiful back-up vocals.
It’s often difficult to be able to focus on words even if particular phrases do jut out, what with the kraut-rock and minimalism-inspired repetitiveness, soundscapes cycling ceaselessly, and aural trickery mimicking the dreamlike/distracting artwork. No worries, since the end result is as fantastic a package as can be desired; so many gorgeous layers and loops transform any potential ills into musical beauty-marks. Merriweather Post Pavilion isn’t only the most progressive Collective project, it’s the absolute largest too with as much sound crammed into one space as previous albums combined. When, around the two-and-a-half minute mark, “In the Flowers” positively explodes, it’s like watching a (pop) star being born. Ambition’s never sounded prettier.
The comedown to all of this kaleidoscopic euphoria appears near the end of the album as “No More Runnin’” before “Brothersport” kicks things back into gear, effectively ending Merriweather Post Pavilion on a ridiculously high note. The former is barely threaded together with tinkling piano while the latter is a near seven minute jam that weaves pulsing Technicolor melodies around Panda Bear’s voice. There are far too many interlocking parts to possibly fully digest it upon first inspection. In fact, this aspect of the song is a perfect summation for the album as a whole. If all of this raving has you thinking that this is album of the year material then you’d be right. What’s more important is that Merriweather Post Pavilion is not just one of the finest things you’re going to hear in 2009 but that it should sit well next to albums like Kid A on lists of the best music made in our time.
The Onion (A.V. Club): 10/10
by Andy Battaglia January 20, 2009
The searching souls in Animal Collective have evolved into one of the most fascinating bands of our time, in part for the way they jam signals of various kinds. There's the sound, of course: a simultaneously loose and hard-wired amalgam of moods that transposes shrieking terror with swooning beauty, each given voice in a liminal art-rock language that prioritizes the ecstasy of surprise. Then there's the matter of approach: the way they've gotten bigger and more influential as they've burrowed deeper into what plays like the esoteric findings of private rites of passage.
Merriweather Post Pavilion is one of this year's most feverishly anticipated indie albums, and it's worth taking a moment to consider how startling it is that music so idiosyncratic—so adventurous, so strange—could qualify as momentous on any scale. Part of that owes to the lingering power of Animal Collective's past few albums, but Merriweather is the first one to sound genuinely ready for wider reach. It's an aspirational album, with aspirations split between an ambitious sort of communalism and more modest concerns, like quietly hanging out, walking around, and staring into the eyes of someone scared.
Merriweather's sound plays like both a summation and an expansion of everything Animal Collective has done so far, with a sharper focus on melody and more emboldened vocals that drive the songs. There's a lot to drive, especially amid sloshing, slurping, widescreen soundscapes like the dramatic opener "In The Flowers" and "My Girls," an electronically strobing ode to domesticity sung by Panda Bear. The wondrous rub between electronic ingenuity and exultant humanity counts as one of Merriweather's unstated themes, and it's hard to imagine a better anthem for that than "Brother Sport," a triumphant outro that sounds like a thousand friends twirling and singing together, all inside their own heads and with eyes wide.
Pitchfork : 9.6/10
By Mark Richardson, January 5, 2009
With their constantly evolving sonic identity, in-your-face vocal mannerisms, and open-ended ideas about what their music might "mean," Animal Collective seem designed to inspire obsessive fans and vociferous detractors in equal measure. Merriweather Post Pavilion, their latest full-length, has been anticipated to an almost ridiculous degree, with blogs and message boards lighting up with each scrap of new information or word of a possible leak. No one who's been looking forward to it should be disappointed. Everything that's defined the band to this point-- all those strands winding through their hugely diverse catalog-- is refined and amplified here.
Since their inception, Animal Collective have wandered the territorial edges of music, scoping out where boundaries had been erected and looking beyond them. They've punctuated perfectly likeable indie rock songs with bleating vocalizations. They've seeded pretty instrumentals with irritating noise. They've juxtaposed West African rhythms and melodies cribbed from British folk. They've stayed on a single chord for 10 minutes. But Merriweather feels like a joyous meeting in a well-earned, middle place-- the result of all their explorations pieced together to create something accessible and complete.
Although it will be tagged as Animal Collective's "pop" album, Merriweather Post Pavilion remains drenched in their idiosyncratic sound, a record that no one else could have made. The album is named for a Maryland venue that last year played host to Santana, Sheryl Crow, and John Mayer, but its songs won't be heard on the radio, and besides, Animal Collective's M.O. requires them to exist outside of rigid formats. Nonetheless, they've found a natural way to integrate the sing-along melodies, sticky hooks, and driving percussion that have long been hallmarks of celebratory popular music.
Animal Collective's two vocalists, Dave Portner (aka Avey Tare) and Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear), have never sounded better together, and the way their styles complement each other is the story of the album. On the one hand you have Panda's straightforward melodies, his fuzzy, head-in-the-clouds dreaminess, and his instinctual trawl through pop music history. The tracks that favor his songwriting typically have an underlying sense of drone, with everything moving forward along a line in relation to some subliminal center: They begin, then build, expand, and contract. Tare, meanwhile, tends to work within a more classic pop structure, with clear bridges and snappy choruses, greater harmonic development, and a sharper lyrical focus. Here, he reins in the blurting vocalizations that he's so often used as punctuation (the hardcore faithful might miss this unhinged emoting just a little). Both songwriters are on exactly the same page and, working with sonic spelunker Brian "Geologist" Weitz and producer Ben Allen (no Josh "Deakin" Dibb this time), they've found a sumptuous musical background for their most accomplished songs.
Merriweather is the kind of album on which any song could be someone's favorite, but two will likely reign as the choice picks: "My Girls" and "Brother Sport", both of which leaked prior to the record's release, contain the album's most effervescent moments, drawing from the communal energy of the group's astonishing live show. "My Girls" grows from a synth-speckled, half-speed intro into a booming electro-pop burner with handclaps and deep bass-- a towering edifice of sound trailed by long wisps of West coast harmonies. The Afro-Brazilian-flavored "Brother Sport" moves from one chanted melodic nugget to the next before building to a huge swirl of psychedelic sound that encompasses rave sirens and immersive tribal drums.
But these obvious peaks would have less resonance if not for the more subtle moments. The oblong architecture of "Daily Routine" hearkens back to the band's less stable earlier days, as it moves appealingly from an awkward organ-based mid-tempo number to a long, droney coda that has the ego-pulverizing bliss of shoegaze. The surging thrust of distortion and drumkick that propels "Summertime Clothes" starts with an almost militaristic pomp, but the song soon reaches a place of pure sweetness with a simple chorus hook ("I want to walk around with you") that could have come from any point in the last 100 years. Similarly out-of-time sentiments mark "Bluish"-- lines like "I'm getting lost in your curls," or, "Some kind of magic in the way you're lying there"-- and the music has the airy ease of 1970s soft-rock that weirdly winds up a little disconcerting. And then "Also Frightened" has the dislocated swoon of first-wave psychedelia, a "See Emily Play"-style mediation on the small insanity of childhood softened with billowing layers of voices.
The lyrics focus on the body, basic human connection, the need to take care of oneself, the puzzle of existence. Where the churning electronic sound, with its fizzes and echoes and underwater cast, brings to mind altered states and the confusing gap between the familiar and the strange, the words seem like a running commentary on the essential mystery of being alive. Animal Collective don't tell stories, and their music rarely has characters; there's little clever wordplay and fewer money lines you'll repeat later on. Rather, the words reinforce the sense of vulnerability that cuts through the music, and wind up being an essential component on an album that oozes confidence from every pore.
Music obsessives talk a lot about originality-- whether it's important, or why having a new sound should or shouldn't matter. In recent years, some fantastic albums have turned a number of people off for being retreads, which has sparked some interesting discussions. This album, which finds Animal Collective completely owning their unique sound, feels like the crucial next step in that conversation. What they've constructed here is a new kind of electronic pop-- one which is machine-generated and revels in technology but is also deeply human, never drawing too much attention to its digital nature. It's of the moment and feels new, but it's also striking in its immediacy and comes across as friendly and welcoming. Animal Collective have spent the decade following their own path, figuring out what their music is capable of while also working to bring more listeners into their world. On Merriweather Post Pavilion, their commitment has paid off tremendously.
Prefix Magazine: 9.5/10
By Nick Neyland
House music gets pretty short shrift in the indie-rock community. It is, after all, a direct descendant of that other much-maligned genre, disco. Critics will dress it up in a hipper term (“electronic music,” “electronica”), but there’s little doubt that house music holds considerable sway over Merriweather Post Pavilion, the ninth album from Animal Collective. It’s there in the juddering bass thuds of “In the Flowers,” and the Frankie Knuckles-style “My Girls” (which, quite naturally, bore the working title “House”), and on to the thievery of a few Derrick May beats on closing track “Brother Sport.”
Of course, this being an Animal Collective album, there are plenty of other influences at work. “Brother Sport” manages to weld May’s borrowed beats onto a warped lock-groove and propulsive Brazilian rhythms, creating a track that sounds like no one other than Animal Collective. Like the band's other records, Merriweather Post Pavilion is a considerable progression from the last. Dave Portner’s (a.k.a. Avey Tare) guitar is extremely muted this time around, and second guitarist Josh Dibb (a.k.a. Deakin) is nowhere to be seen. In their place come sample-heavy grooves and a few down-tempo ballads, which have been extensively road-tested during Dibb’s hiatus from the band.
The members of Animal Collective have retained the fearless sense of sonic exploration they grasped from the fertile Brooklyn scene that produced fellow forward-thinkers Gang Gang Dance and Black Dice. This constant desire to distort and blur their own songwriting template, to produce songs with wild time structures (“Lion in a Coma”) and filled with noise of indeterminate origin (the sound of machinery screaming halfway through “In the Flowers”) will make us return to Merriweather Post Pavilion time and time again.
Lyrics have never been a strong point for the band, and so it remains here. It’s often difficult to hear what Portner or fellow songwriter Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear) is singing, and it’s likely intentional. The words that do creep through range from the inspired to the insipid, and often work as just another texture added to the music. At other times, they’re a perfect counterpoint to the melodies, such as the “Will it be just like they’re dreaming” line on “Also Frightened.”
It’s likely that Animal Collective see lyrics as being no more or less important than a huge bass hit or a sample of a bee trapped in a cup. You don’t sing along to Animal Collective, you submerse yourself in the overall sound. That said, there are two huge pop hits here, in the form of the aforementioned “My Girls” and the breezy “Summertime Clothes.” The latter builds on the stuttering rhythms of Strawberry Jam’s “For Reverend Green” and takes them into a place of pure euphoria.
Only Animal Collective could follow such a track with the disjointed Panda Bear jam “Daily Routine,” which again bears a distinctly houselike piano sound, and the watery “Bluish,” which sounds like it was recorded after the band plunged into Dr. Edward Jessup’s sensory-deprivation tank in Altered States. “Guys Eyes” is one of the standout tracks on the record, with the lyrics piling up on top of each other as the song progresses, generating an irresistible feeling of tipsy chaos.
There’s respite from such dense layering in the album’s penultimate track, “No More Runnin.” Its sparse beats and gentle vocals feel like the first welcome gulp of air after being submerged underwater for too long. Merriweather Post Pavilion ends with the gigantic rush of “Brother Sport,” with its house-y piano stabs, acidic synths and clattering beats all combining to create utter elation. Like the rest of the album, it’s not a retro retread, more like a group bastardizing sounds they’ve borrowed from the past in order to construct their own vision of how a 21st century band should sound.
This album will be stretched and frayed at the seams as it undergoes rigorous analysis. But it can make you smile, and feel sad, and like you want to dance, often all at the same time. And that’s because Animal Collective operate in the same way all the best pop bands do: by wanting to move your feet and your heart. They’re a precious group, and one that will be looked back on with considerable reverence. Has the album of 2009 been unleashed in January? I can’t see anything else coming near it.
Lost At Sea : 9.4/10
by Cory Tendering , February 16, 2009
Kaleidoscopic is a term that seems to come up in reviews more and more often these days. Sometimes it's applicable and sometimes it's just the flagrant use of a buzzword by a critic who longs to run with the herd. But with the release of Animal Collective's newest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, one can't shake the feeling that that "kaleidoscopic" is a term that, until now, has always been misused.
And while the venerable quartet have always made their meals with disorienting pop sounds, be it the jarring noise attacks of earlier albums like Here Comes the Indian or the swirling acid-folk of the band's breakthrough, Sung Tongs, recent years have found the band exploring a form of kaleidoscopic (sic) electronic pop that both manages to push their collective vision forward and solidify exactly what that vision is. To date, their vision has not always been something that Animal Collective have been perfectly clear on, but the group seems to have settled on a specific identity for at least the last couple of releases. The decided-upon vision seems to be one that incorporates all of their previous incarnations and styles in a whirling cacophony that is unmistakably that of a singularly creative approach, instead of moving from one style to the next as their breakneck series of albums, starting with Here Comes the Indian and ending in Feels, were wont to do.
From the start Merriweather Post Pavilion is more extreme and more conservative (which is something you'll notice every time you try to describe it - the contrasting opinion will often be true as well) than the band's early forays and, somehow, manages to be both at the same time. The sound of this record will please fans of Animal Collective's more recent releases more than it will long term followers; a band with such a meandering history is invariably followed by fans of differing demographics, with Strawberry Jam having seemed to be a divisive release across the board, especially in the wake of the more immediately palatable Person Pitch release by Panda Bear. We have a song with Avey Tare (Dave Portner) vocally reaching for the same existential bodily release before "In the Flowers" explodes into a flurry of drumbeats and sampled guitar and keyboards. Lyrically Portner's mining the same ground as he did on Strawberry Jam, but with more effectiveness: as the melody begins to unfold you notice less in the way of missteps or awkward stream of consciousness. Some of the band's fans are bound to cringe.
Taken as a whole, however, the album flows remarkably well. "My Girls," sure to be a standout, as most of Panda Bear's straightforward, open-throated songs tend to be (see "Derek" on the last one), segues perfectly into the loss-of-innocence tune "Also Frightened," which in turn stomps right into the "Reverend Green"-esque (in placement and in it's grinding aural qualities- despite it's sweeter vocal approach) "Summertime Clothes." The band sounds fuller and more realized using straight piano, and instead of the murky psychedelia of, for example, "Seal Eying," we get a propulsive, jittery piano based tune in "Guys Eyes."
Throughout Merriweather Post Pavilion the band mixes instrumentation and samples and voices in a way that seems to be an advanced or accelerated development of past triumphs. By the time they instruct you to "Open up your throats," in closer "Brothersport," you're either with them or your not. And it's okay if you're not; anything this defiantly creative and unique is bound to create strong opinions good and bad, and as their best album to date, that divisive quality is more concentrated that ever before.
Entertainment Weekly : 9.1/10
By Leah Greenblatt
Squares are seldom invited to the art-school party, and for nearly a decade, the trippy, often willfully obtuse output of cerebral-psych outfit Animal Collective easily stopped most musical normies at the door. In 2007, however, member Noah ''Panda Bear'' Lennox found solo acclaim with Person Pitch, a gorgeously accessible sonic whirligig — like Pet Sounds spun through a flux capacitor. And while their ninth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, won't land the band the opening slot on a Coldplay tour, it cleaves closer to Pitch's more listener-friendly aesthetic, abandoning the self-indulgent impulses that sometimes muddied last year's Strawberry Jam for an album full of effervescent, transportive oddity.
Merriweather, named for the Frank Gehry-designed outdoor concert venue in AC's native Maryland, is actually not unlike the renowned architect's famously contoured forms: swoopy, organic, and disarmingly out-there. Woozy Beach Boy harmonies have always anchored the band's best work, as in opener ''In the Flowers,'' a stunning postmodern frolic of shimmering synths, reverb-soaked vocals, and thump-and-tumble percussion. ''My Girls'' floats on swirling chorus rounds and the occasional falsetto ''owooh!'' while ''Lion in a Coma'' works hard to resuscitate the image of the much-maligned didgeridoo (the jury’s still out). But when the band collectively exhorts ''Open up your/open up your/open up your throat'' on the transcendent closer ''Brother Sport,'' it feels joyful, pure, and best of all, totally inclusive.
Paste Magazine : 9.1/10
By Bart Blasengame on January 6, 2009 8:00 AM
In the last five years or so, the usually Frankenstein-limbed members of the indie-rock-listening community remembered that they have asses. More to the point, they remembered that, sometimes, it’s fun to throw back your head, shut your eyes, and shake said backside like it was on fire.
Artists like Girl Talk and Dan Deacon have taken the obvious route toward woot-woot sensory overload, filling their songs with hooky samples and maniacally propulsive beats that basically act as marionette strings for an audience that can’t help but move its arms and legs in appreciation.
Even in the more traditional realm of guitar/drum/bass rock, inciting the crowd to dance is seen more and more as a positive, even hip thing. But lest we be confused with the Pinks and Timberlakes of the world (we will always worry that we look ridiculous while dancing), we have to make the journey from our brain to our tail feather difficult. We need to be able to contemplate lyrics and time-signature changes and meaning; to gently stroke our artfully manicured mustaches before we can allow ourselves such base pleasures. But on Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective’s message seems to be, “Fuck all that.”
Nine albums and eight years in, it’s time to stop trying to figure out what the hell Animal Collective—vocalist/guitarist Avey Tare, percussionist/vocalist Panda Bear and knob-twiddler Geologist—is, and just enjoy the orgasmic rush of danceable rock. After all, hands are meant not to be jettisoned up in frustration at dead-end lyrics, but thrown in the air as if you just didn’t care.
From the gurgling heartbeat of “In The Flowers”—where a sampled, garbled voice seems to be saying “I’mna dance,” and Tare drunkenly warbles about longing to leave his body for the night—this is an album made for the waist down. Tare’s proclamation sets free the song’s pulsating body, a dreamy, floating chorus of voices and gently picked strings that glides on top of a booming, lock-step bass thud.
And nothing goes better with sweaty dancefloor gyrations than sex and love and ladies, themes that carry two of Merriweather’s best tracks, “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes.” The former is a loose-limbed jumping jack of a fem-positive pop song that sounds somewhere between Eno and Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and The Spice Girls’ Spiceworld. It’s a musical chigger that burrows deep and won’t leave. “Summertime Clothes” is similarly addictive, a robo-tripping love song where—over a bouncing low end and weird harpsichord crescendos—Tare and Panda Bear’s harmonies sound absolutely Shins-esque.
Not everything is hearts and Ketamine, though. Merriweather’s middle gets a bit dirgey. The echo-chamber effect on “Daily Routine” borders on the boring; “Bluish” threatens to meander until Avey Tare’s killer chorus rips the Band-Aid off. And then there’s Animal Collective’s unquenchable penchant for experimentation. “Guys Eyes” recycles Panda’s voice what seems like a billion times until he’s singing over himself in 18-part harmony, finally validating all those once-puzzling Beach Boys comparisons. “Lion In A Coma” is built on a looped African jaw harp and an impossible-to-step-to 9/4 beat.
Interesting sign posts, for sure—the kind of thing Collective completists live for. But thankfully the band doesn’t forget the sampled mantra that started this whole journey: I’mna dance. As proof, they close the album with “Brothersport.” Shimmying its way to life in a clash of mechanized tribal drumming and Afrobeat-lite choral rounds that sound like Fela Kuti making love to his 27 robotic wives, the song soon dissolves into a racket of assembly-line noises before returning to rapid-fire three-part harmonies that finally culminate in an overblown explosion of big-beat rave. It’s the kind of epic track that probably depletes your serotonin levels while you listen.
But this is the new indie ethos: Don’t think; dance. Like Tare says on “My Girls,” “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things like my social stance, I just want four walls and adobe slats for my girls.”
I have absolutely no idea what that means, and I don’t care—print it up, put it on a T-shirt and hand me that glow stick.
Tiny Mix Tapes : 9/10
In a recent interview, Panda Bear described Merriweather Post Pavilion as Animal Collective’s own form of soul music. "The music is personal to us; not directly autobiographical, but it’s about the things that we think about and care about." Their concerns on this album are clear: relationships, connections, love, existence. However, to call Animal Collective’s lyrical content simplistic undermines the complexity of the feelings with which they’re dealing; and while their muses are well-worn, the confidence with which they relay this overt sentimentality is simply inspiring. In a time when rhapsody is considered mawkish, it’s refreshing to hear Avey Tare belt out "And I want to walk around with you" without poetic distancing or Panda Bear singing "What can I do as traffic pass/ Guard my girl from muffler’s black gas" without irony. Animal Collective subsume art and life, not because they can, but because they don’t make any clear distinctions between the two.
In this context, even the signifiers on their more "challenging" releases (Here Comes the Indian, Campfire Songs) have shifted in meaning for me — the abstractions now sound transcendent, the formlessness like yearning. It’s not that Animal Collective have stopped "experimenting"; it’s that their sounds and current lyrical themes have reached equilibrium. While still far from the "rock" aesthetic of the group’s first album, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, or the spooky existentialism of Campfire Songs, the reach is as generous as it’s always been: mutated structures, exaggerated melodies, conspicuously complex rhythms, and warped textures. The only thing predictable about Merriweather Post Pavilion is how much it sounds like Animal Collective.
Influenced by dub and hip-hop, the album adopts deeper bass than before, wrapping each minute in synth washes and electronic bleeps. It exudes fullness — of ideas, of sounds, of emotions — that, like the emotions they’re dealing with, can be occasionally exhausting, as if restraint had been tossed out the window after Feels. Still, it’s quite remarkable that the emphasis on loops, samples, and electronics can convey such primal ecstasy, further dissolving the constructed wall between electronic music and "authenticity" (in this day and age all recorded music is electronic music). When comparing the three-piece lineup on Merriweather to the two-member songs of Sung Tongs and the four-member Feels and Strawberry Jam, it’s clear the band is quick to adapt. Animal Collective’s sound is dictated by circumstance, not predetermined vision.
While Avey Tare’s songs have usually stood out on Animal Collective albums, Panda Bear’s tracks are the most indelible this time: "My Girls" and "Brothersport" are already fan favorites, while "Guys Eyes" and "Daily Routine" give the album much needed variety. Panda continues his emphasis on lyrical and structural repetition, singing about being a father and, on "Brothersport," a brother. On this track, he consoles his brother over their father’s death: "You’ve got to open up your throat/ Support your brother." I get chills every time the band harmonizes "Matt!!" Meanwhile, Avey emphasizes more conventional pop, slightly taming his melodic flexibility and reigning in his structural explorations. He’s at his best on the more moody tracks, like album opener "In the Flowers" and penultimate track "No More Runnin’," singing "On back porches with the torch of a firefly lit tree/ It’s what I hope for."
Change has always been a topic of contention for critics; bands are faulted for both shifting styles and retaining the same one. Animal Collective aren’t necessarily growing toward anything in particular; they’re just growing, with their aesthetic changing, dynamically and organically, alongside their mindsets. It wasn’t that long ago we were calling them ‘noise rock’ and ‘psych folk.’ Yet no matter what mode they’re in, the band members amazingly channel the same infectious energy, even when their lives are being shaped by family rather than aesthetics. Indeed, family hasn’t become a reason for Animal Collective to stop doing "art"; family is their art. And on Merriweather, their art reminds us that immersion in Western tropes need not be met with scorn, that not all of its idioms have yet been exhausted, that embracing optimism and melody can still be so relevant — and it aches in the most soulful of ways.
by Mr P
Drowned In Sound : 9/10
by Andrzej Lukowski
Analysis of the hysteria surrounding Animal Collective's ninth album has become a bit of a cottage industry in itself over DiS's Christmas break, to the extent that rocking up on the day of release with another glowing appraisal seems almost a little quaint. But what the hell, eh? All I can really chime in with here are my own reasons for getting in an advance tizzy about Merriweather Post Pavilion, then follow with some words about how it utterly vindicates the pent up expectation, and then there will be one more gushing review in the world and that will be that.
Despite a typically rapturous reception (including a 10/10 from this here site), I'm not the only one that 2007's Strawberry Jam didn't really do it for. Its intentionally glossy, artificial textures did not gel nicely with Avey Tare's breathless delivery (i.e. he sounded massively smug ), and while Panda Bear's more detached tones fared better, he comprehensively stole his own thunder a few months later with his Person Pitch solo record. Plenty of people still love Strawberry Jam, of course, but plenty don't, and certainly Feels remains better regarded by a long stretch.
So why has Merriweather Post Pavilion come weighted down with practically Obama-ish levels of expectation within the indiesphere? Probably lots of things: 2008 lacked a truly totemic indie record; it's coming out at a super-dead time of year; it has cover art that you can use to send your enemies insane; journalists reporting from playbacks could scarcely have been more delighted if Geologist had shown them definitive proof of an afterlife; and of course right-thinking people are always excited about Animal Collective albums. For me – and I'd guess others - it's about their live shows last year. I caught them once, at Primavera, and all I can really remember of their set was a relentlessly joyful electronic torrent of sound, set to blinding rainbow coloured rave lights. It wasn't Strawberry Jam: The Stageshow, they'd tapped into something else, something new and something better, and Merriweather Post Pavilion is the deafening sound of that something.
This is what happens the first time you listen. You think - of opener 'In The Flowers' – that this is very good, but sounds like it's going to build to something amazing. There is a faint worry that, in an M. Night Shyamalan stylee, the build is actually too good, that there will be no conclusion that does it justice. This is not the case. Two and a half minutes in, and Merriweather Post Pavilion becomes certifiably amazing, and remains so until the very end.
Or to rephrase more specifically, after 'In The Flowers''s first two and half minutes of swirling build - Avey Tare singing with barely restrained wonder about "the dancer who gets wild to the deep revelling rhythm" over arpeggios straining against a euphoric wash of noise - everything just blows up in a way it seems scarcely possible a studio could ever capture. There are gargantuan celebratory drums, spiralling with the rhythmic abandon of a dozen carnivals; there's piercing major key synths, shimmering high, bright and alien as the Northern Lights; there is the most bone-rattlingly awesome subsonic bass ever committed to an indie record; and there's Avey Tare, over-cute affectations abandoned in favour of a hail of joy unbridled, starry eyed yearning for the time "we could be dancing, no more missing you while I am gone". When Panda Bear rather dryly observed in an interview that MPP was the band's "best recorded" album, he was not kidding: there's an absurd amount going on here, much of it incredibly loud, but they pull it off immaculately, a perfectly vivid snapshot of a star going nova.
And it doesn't burn out. Next is 'My Girls', Panda Bear doing his sublime neo-Beach Boys thing over a neon wheel of expectant fairground synths and more insane bass frequencies (that bass never lets up the record over – it's like Animal Collective are demanding you feel every song physically), the words a pure, unquestioning fusillade of love for his wife and daughter. Love is a recurrent theme (as ever), but be it Panda's peons to his family or Avey's to his other half, it's not cutesy cute indie schmindie love: it's a primal outpouring, one loud, happy noise among Merriweather Post Pavilion's radiant arsenal of loud, happy noises.
So there's 'Also Frightened's, treacly, dreamy flow, propelled lazily forward by languorously processed beats that are every so often interrupted by pealing, wordless vocal detonation of happiness from the two singers. There's the utter, out of his gourd giddiness of Avey's 'Summertime Clothes', the singer drunk with the song's thick, heady throb as he declares "I want to walk around with you", over and over. There's 'Daily Routine's madly flailing keys, and overtly mechanistic underbelly, counterbalanced by Panda's absurdly magical description of a trip to take his daughter to school; 'Bluish' is another love-as-colour song from Avey, but while we've heard its like before, here the gossamer gorgeousness blown to superhero proportions with some judicious sprays of psychedelic synth and more of that magical low end.
And it goes on, wave after ecstatic wave until finally wrapping up with 'Brothersport'. A plea from Panda for his sibling to open up after the death of their father, it threatens to build to some sort actual full on, bug out, glowsticks in the air finale, but instead opts not to burn up the record's energies, but ground them the coda refrain "You've got so much inside, let it come right out". It's just perfect, a moment of catharsis you probably didn't even realise the record needed.
Is Merriweather Post Pavilion the flawless album that it's been willed to be? Taken as a whole I'd say it's pretty damn close. Break it down and then some songs clearly stand up better on their own than others – it's unlikely anyone's ever going to put hand on heart and declare 'Lion In A Coma' to be their favourite song of all time. But it's not about breaking it down, or being cerebral, or taking things track by track. It's not about worrying that we're all getting too excited over this album, or even, conversely, worrying if you don't like it. It's about the rush; the rush of life, the rush of electricity, the rush of joy, joy unbounded.
PopMatters : 9/10
By Dan Raper
Did you think this was going to pan Merriweather Post Pavilion? Sorry, can’t oblige—I’m as guilty as the most effusive critic of Animal Collective-love. So here goes. Merriweather Post Pavilion is a masterstroke, a release so fun to listen to it makes you actually hopeful for the new year, not just for music but for life in general. It’s musically sophisticated, of course, boiling up the band’s characteristic components of techno, tribalism, drone and noise with gorgeous melody into an addictive optimism.
In the past, it has taken a bit of effort to relate to Animal Collective’s music. I used to pretty much hate Animal Collective. They seemed somehow to embody this Brooklyn-centric elitism that proffered vague ideas about “music” as an excuse for screeching into the microphone or recording eight minutes of directionless ambience. If my reaction was knee-jerk against a critical community that occasionally seemed to revel in its own cooler-than-thou attitude, casually bequeathing Best Music on unapproachable bands, it was an overly impulsive one. It’s not just that the band’s come more towards the mainstream over the past three or four years. If you go back and listen to their older material through the prism of Sung Tongs-and-on, you’re struck by the open-heartedness of their sonic creations. Over time, the ragged open ends have tightened, but the optimism and wonder remain the same.
This open-hearted delight is what, once won over, keeps us coming back and back. Put on an Animal Collective album and somehow things seem all right. Merriweather Post Pavillion says this through warm tones and less prominent noise/drone elements—through the machinery of pop. Poppier, for this band, doesn’t mean worse. Strawberry Jam might have been the best pop album of 2007; witness the off-kilter train-shuffle of “For Reverend Green” and its synth washes of “#1”. And this continues without break throughout Merriweather Post Pavilion; instead of vague electronic atmospherics, down-time is marked by chiming, recognizable guitar arpeggios. You’ll be surprised by the alt-rock melodic figure in the chorus of “In the Flowers”—and love its juxtaposition with the two-chord stasis of the verse. You may have already heard the buzz about “My Girls” and “Brothersport” – the former, particularly, will go down as an Animal Collective classic—sanguine, innocent, and enthralling.
But then again, “Taste” is as patient as “Swimming Pool”, and “Lion in a Coma”, perhaps Tare’s best song on this album, shares something of “Chores” and “Who Could Win a Rabbit“‘s unhinged celebration (instead of the yelp, though, we get ironic auto-tune and a climax of controlled, sublime falsetto). Since Strawberry Jam and through the Water Curses EP, Animal Collective have developed a mature band’s confident deployment of engineered components. This is, after all, their ninth album together since 2000.
Moreover, Avey Tare and Panda Bear have never sounded more in sync. The two principal singer-songwriters’ vocals have been (minimally) treated in similar ways, retaining the vocalists’ essential character but smoothing them into an ear-pleasing blend. No more of Tare’s characteristic shriek, which is a shame, though I doubt we’ve heard the last of it. And it’s all so charming that whatever Tare/Bear are singing about hardly matters. There’s a lot of paeans to children, walking around (as we’ve previously luxuriated in on “Street Flash"), and celebration of intimate moments: a lover’s voice cooling our singer on a boiling hot night, watching her sleeping form “with delight”, and playfully admitting he’s charmed when she “claws him like a cat”.
So Merriweather Post Pavilion finds Animal Collective tight and sharp, and it suits them. Animal Collective’s music is for everyone’s world. I’ve had it on repeat while riding the shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto, Kyoto and Hiroshima, Kyoto and Tokyo. While walking around unfamiliar streets. But it’s music not just for this specific situation but for driving. For, yeah, doing household chores. For pretending to work on a slow day. For when you need some music to make you smile. For life in its infinite variety and endless delight.
musicOMH.com : 9/10
By Ben Winbolt-Lewis
The release of Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion has seen levels of anticipation reach fever pitch. The January release partially explains this, given the ubiquity of the likes of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes in the countless 'Best of 2008' lists. The world is gagging for something new.
The involvement of Web Sheriff as leak-protector general created more buzz, especially as final track Brothersport was supposedly leaked by friend Ed Droste, of Grizzly Bear. Fake torrents were uploaded to ward off hungry downloaders, some including a mash-up of early house classic Your Love by Frankie Knuckles and Merriweather's My Girls to tease the fans. Deerhunter's Bradford Cox added his voice, saying that people should "pick up instruments and make your own version of what you would want it to sound like".
Anyway, all this attention heightened expectations for the Baltimore band's ninth studio album. 2007's Strawberry Jam and AC member Panda Bear's (aka Noah Lennox) Person Pitch blew all sorts of people away. The former saw the four-piece at their most confident; vocals higher in the mix with sweet melodies complemented by electronic soundscapes. The latter, received with arguably more warmth by critics, AC fans and non-fans alike, was a blissed-out Brian Wilson-inspired piece of pyschedelia.
Given the temporary absence of guitarist Deakin (Josh Dibb), Merriweather was made by the trio of Panda Bear, Avey Tare (David Portner) and Geologist (Brian Weitz). Unlike Strawberry Jam, Merriweather was mostly worked out live. Hip hop producer Ben Allen was employed to help translate the live sound onto record in Oxford, Mississippi.
The album opens with In The Flowers, which creeps out like the first snowdrops of spring before exploding into life as a Flaming Lips-esque celebratory anthem. This euphoria and open-eyed wonderment continues with My Girls. Written by Lennox, it is a simple sun-drenched mantra about his new life as a husband and father. He sings for the humble simplicities of a roof over his head and distances himself from the materialistic sides of life.
It would be easy for a record of such honesty and naivety to fall flat on its face. Guys Eyes shares a passing resemblance to (seriously) Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? But they manage to create the tune in such a way that is more akin to the tingling excitement you heard Band Aid as a kid, rather than the disenchanted, cynical eyes that so many see it through today.
Weighing in at 55 minutes, the 11 tracks are an exhilarating yet exhausting journey. But then the album ends with the most celebratory and upbeat track on the album, Brother Sport.
The band have honed their craft. There is more space and focus than before, with no song topping six minutes (save for the finalé). It is a million miles from the awkward, self-aware recordings that bemused and frustrated people eight or so years ago when the band surfaced. However, the tunes are undoubtedly Animal Collective's.
Merriweather could be described as the meeting point of Strawberry Jam and Person Pitch, picking out the best elements of both whilst sounding unlike anything yet like everything you have ever heard. It is their most accessible record, and owes as much to the world of dance as it does any other of their influences.
Oozing fun out of every pore, this record is the perfect tonic to the increasingly troubled times that 2009 brings with it and will most likely feature on many of those Best Of lists come December.
Urb : 9/10
by Amorn Bholsangngam , January 09, 2009
Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion is an aural trip into space. No, I don’t mean outer space, although the sounds present on the band’s ninth studio album seem to exist outside of the earth’s gravitational pull. Space, the approximation of depth on a sound recording, is likely the band’s primary concern on this record. An insert featured in the vinyl edition even explains the band’s career-long aspiration to create “music that would be deserving of an amazing outdoor listening experience.” The record’s production not only convinces listeners that the songs would sound great outside, but actually sounds as though the band is performing in some other, unmarked region while being broadcast through your stereo system. Using vintage reverbs, tilt-a-whirl electronics, and time-tested mixing techniques, the album transports listeners to a distance far from whatever cold recording studio may have been host to its sessions.
Of course, listening to soundscapes and appreciating how sounds are sculpted and manipulated into something palatable can interesting for only so long. Fortunately, writing great pop melodies to keep their audience engaged while admiring the sonic landscapes they’ve constructed is also a large part of their agenda with Merriweather. Animal Collective succeed in making dense, harmony-rich songs that make the aural spaces they’ve created a place that humming and singing along are mandatory. “My Girls” may be the record’s most infectious tune as the vocals fluctuate between wide-eyed hopefulness and subtle melancholy. With Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective have proven themselves to be at the forefront of progressive pop, as deadly with their textures as they are with their melodies.
AllMusic : 9/10
by John Bush
Animal Collective have brought the celestial down to earth with each record, but they've never sounded simultaneously otherworldly and approachable quite like they do on Merriweather Post Pavilion. Their eighth studio LP, it finds them at their best -- straining farther away from conventional song structure and accompaniment, even while doubling back to reach lyrical themes and modes of singing at their most basic or child-like. Where before AC expertly inserted experimental snippets into relatively straight-ahead songs, Merriweather Post Pavilion sees them reach some kind of denouement where pop music ends and pure sonic experience begins -- the sound is the only structure. Dismantling the framework of a pop song almost entirely (but using recurring passages in a very poppy way), the group offer a series of overlapping circular elements, all of which occasionally come together for a chorus but then break apart just as quickly. The music itself, at least what's describable about it, consists of deep bass pulses and art-damaged guitars with overlapping vocal harmonies that rise in a holy chorus. This may sound much like previous Animal Collective highlights, but where those records seemed like a series of accidental masterpieces -- the type of work that sounds brilliant only because it's been culled from hundreds of hours of tape -- Merriweather Post Pavilion is a perfectly organized record, not a note out of place, not a second wasted. It has the excitement and energy of Sung Tongs, the ragged sonic glory of Feels, and Strawberry Jam's ability to make separate parts come together in a glorious whole. Like the best experimental rockers surging toward nirvana -- from the Beach Boys to Mercury Rev -- Animal Collective have not only created a private soundworld like none other, they've also made it an inviting place to visit.
Dot (Yahoo) Music : 9/10
by James Poletti
It's likely that if you've heard Baltimore's Animal Collective before, you'll have listened with a mixture of admiration and incomprehension. Nine albums in and Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Geologist and Deakin have lost little of their experimental, challenging approach to composition. "Merriweather Post Pavilion" - named after the Baltimore venue where they saw their first gigs as children - is being hailed as their breakthrough. This comes despite it having little to offer in the way of hooky choruses or even intelligible lyrics. All the more reason then to celebrate their immense success: delivering their most profound statement yet without any concessions to the altogether more prosaic musical vocabularies of their indie peers.
The big shift into focus clearly comes from 2007's Panda Bear solo album, "Person Pitch", produced with Geologist and introducing a new level of electronic production and self-sampling into their sound. "MPP" resounds with looped harmonic rounds from Panda Bear, deep bass and skittering rhythms from Geologist, whilst the former's harmonic mantras find a wonderful balance with the unhinged song structures of Avey Tare. Both guitar and live drums have receded to be replaced up front at live shows by keyboards and samplers; guitarist Deakin has also chosen to sit out this album.
The Avey Tare-voiced tracks on "MPP" rate amongst Animal Collective's most accessible; "Lion In A Coma" and "Summertime Clothes" bottle the joyous explosions of last year's "Fireworks" in more approachable structures. But it's in the Panda-led call-and-responses, where concentric chants and mantric repetition come together to serve the style of both singers, that they astonish most.
Despite their techno sensibilities - and the mentions of 'ecstasy' that have prompted talk of this as some kind of rave epiphany - Animal Collective's affinity with dance music goes further back into Africa than that. On an album of standout tracks, the high point comes with "Brother Sport" which sounds like DJ Koze remixing "The Lion King". Full of joy and therapeutic release, you really can't imagine another band coming up with anything like it, or managing to produce something so wonderfully at home on a dancefloor.
In an age in which rock musicians run in packs, Animal Collective are too far out on their own for anyone else to follow. Whether you approach this as the work of a US indie band or as that of electronica producers sampling voices and instruments really doesn't matter. "Merriweather Post Pavilion"'s rare combination of great songs and vital invention make this one of the year's most important records, already.
Los Angeles Times : 8.8/10
By Margaret Wappler
With its eighth studio release, Animal Collective has distilled an album of its purest songs yet. "Merriweather Post Pavilion" shines a light into Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist's subterranean world of labyrinthine freakadelia, banishing some of the ghosts that have haunted it before.
The indie community and some mainstream outlets have celebrated the album with Pentecostal-like fever, which is surprising, considering that "Merriweather Post Pavilion" isn't a new sound for the urban tribalists, only the best iteration to date. It shows how far editing -- and a core group of fanatics -- can take a band.
Certain aural tattoos remain on the New York outfit's collective skin. The banshee wails, the blood-pumping-in-the-ears rhythms, the straight MDMA hits of melody, but Avey Tare and Panda Bear dispense with most of their creepy vocal tics. Instead, they take the breezy harmonies of Panda Bear's 2007 solo outing, "Person Pitch," and stretch, break and blow them out like colorful bulbs of glass.
"My Girls" is a stomping, echo-drenched blast; "Summertime Clothes" is a sweaty, glittery hallucination. Both of them groove with a cool wetness, rivulets of rhythm streaming down their surfaces like water running down a cave's walls.
Animal Collective still struggles with effective counterweights to its euphoric beauty -- the attempt at romance on "Bluish" is off-putting and some of the murkiness can exhaust and undermine -- but it shifts so rapidly, with such conviction, that it's more fun to hunker down and surrender.
cokemachineglow : 8.5/10
By Clayton Purdom, Dom Sinacola & Traviss Cassidy 01/17/2009
Animal Collective keep getting better. This is unfortunate for them. When Feels (2005) turned into Strawberry Jam (2007) the band hit that career-musician critical sweet spot that now dooms them to unwieldy reviews of grandiose proclamations and decisive shit-takes. They sit atop a capital-D Discography, and are fucked forever. This means more everything for everyone. We (you, us, Donovan McNabb, and so on) love this band, at least as they appear now in these moments of garish and wonderful transformation. It is impossible to not view everything in light of everything at this juncture, to draw definitive lines from “Brothersport” to “Native Belle” and everywhere else, and then act like this is it (!) in some capacity—whichever capacity we can shoehorn it in. Their best album! Their worst album. Their dance album! Hail to the Thief (2003). This is too bad for them, and for us (we three critics, skulking to the party late), and for you, most of all, because Merriweather Post Pavilion‘s great achievement is its abject disinterest in such mooning about. The record shows up, plainly and hat in hand, to be your friend. And to rock your body (© Justin Timberlake). We’re using the royal “you” here: everyone.
But rather than talk about its accessibility—by all accounts a subjective and rarely descriptive topic—it’s probably better to approach Merriweather Post Pavilion in terms of its self-declared genesis: the concert stage. Granted, the group has long used its concerts as opportunities to test and tweak new material and to offer tasty hints of things to come, but Merriweather Post Pavilion is the first Animal Collective record to truly sound like the product of the collaborative experience of performing live in front of an audience. It’s hard to imagine how the playful back-and-forth mantras of “My Girls” or the pitch-shifting vocal synergy of “Brothersport” could have developed without the band first sharing their talents with each other on the stage and improvising around each member’s strengths. Tellingly, early live bootlegs of those standouts sound nearly indistinguishable in execution from their studio counterparts—par for the course for most bands, but a rather peculiar fact for Animal Collective, who were once notorious for reworking live “preview-only” tidbits in the studio so much as to render them unrecognizable to fans.
But the venues they’re looking to fill aren’t basements or galleries but pyrotechnic raves and scorched-brain arena rawk. If Merriweather Post Pavilion represents its progenitors’ conscious choice to replicate the live experience—or at least craft something monumental and loud enough to be worthy of an outdoor festival—on record, then this is an album which, like any good concert, must be felt. David Byrne’s old saw applies here: this music is very physical, and though the band has been fucking with our minds for years, MPP is the first Animal Collective record the body truly understands before the head. More than that, this is music for the body about the body. It’s this very transmutation of experience, from something insular and cerebral to convivial and corporeal, that is, to be correct with ourselves, Rare. Worth noting loudly. Animal Collective are not platinum superstars, not, you know, Radiohead or Talking Heads, but the band’s natural, unambitious flip toward extroversion recalls the type of populism those Big Great Bands employed.
Let’s not belabor the points: this record has already made the rounds, and we’re preaching to the converted. You love this shit. But, to again be correct about things, how great are those big bass pulses on the chorus of “Summertime Clothes” (let alone the melody!), that shove-and-lock that defines “My Girls,” the smooth boom-bap of “Taste” and the way the entire track is structured to bring attention to the bass line (the fucking bass line!)? There is Brian Wilson here too, of course, and also Tropicalia and Motown and the rest of the hot rich stew of vocal pop music now simmering within the band’s cauldron—but the band’s flirtation with rhythmically dominated music, with the minutiae of trance and the tug of dub and the punch of hip-hop, is now a full-on love affair. And some who had been driven mad by Sung Tongs (2004) may find themselves strangely moved by this shift in allegiance.
Gone are the scratchy, shivering electric guitar patterns conjured by Deakin (who is conspicuously absent on this album) and the unhinged, piercing ululations of Avey Tare. Ultimately, though, Merriweather succeeds in its quest for a larger audience, as the number of new fans it’ll likely draw into its pure, feathery fold will no doubt outnumber the old garde. And that’s big shakes for Animal Collective, once alienating and maybe even defined within that who now, more than ever, resemble their name as it was meant: as some kind of primordial family. If they want to sing out loud about all these obvious joys of having kids and loving stuff and then saran wrap it in unconditional bliss, long squiggles and snuggly synths, then awesome on that. Panda Bear and Avey Tare absolutely long, now more than ever, to be understood, so they communicate in simple pleasures and simpler moments—about the ecstasy of ambulation, about spending the day in bed with a lover, about fleshy sweetness and soft focus.
Everyone’s invited to the barbecue this time, and, indeed, this will be played with aplomb at actual fucking barbecues. Family barbecues, too; it’s imbued with that kind of blood, filled and made with all the blips of a long, ceaseless, eventually tribal history. We’re understood and tolerated here, if we allow ourselves some romance, mouths agape and slurping in all our childhood hopes and fears; all the girls slept with and flowers smelled; all the drugs did in college and hazy comedowns relished and loathed; and, most of all, all the concerts attended that jiggled our marrow. It’s a love letter of sorts to significant others past and present, thicker than water, to fans itching for an Animal Collective album they can play for their friends, to the gods of techno and dub and Afropop and breezy psychedelia and even percussion itself. It’s really something. It’s really quite fun. And they made it for You.
Dusted Magazine : 8/10
By Michael Crumsho
That the Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion (so named for Maryland’s jam base of choice) comes out in a few days is superfluous at this point; after all, it’s circulated enough over the past few weeks that some have deigned to christen it the best album of 2009, young as the year may be. While such grand proclamations further underscore the complete irrelevance of release dates and the fervent impatience of modern criticism, they also serve another, more important point – that these overwhelming exultations come in response to what may be the finest moment in the Animal Collective’s decade-plus history.
As of Strawberry Jam, the Collective had basically painted themselves into an increasingly constricting corner, working the same affections for folk and psych of multinational stripes (think British and Brazilian, mostly) into unfortunately bland outcomes. Whereas their rattling, galloping approach had served to unite these strands with weirdo electronics in ways that never failed to communicate a sense of amazement at the surrounding world, that last album sounded clunky and dated, like a gasp from a group floundering in a way they never before had.
All of which makes Merriweather Post Pavilion that much more surprising - not a return to form so much as a complete reinvention, this is an album that highlights a particularly buoyant Animal Collective, one that’s managed to expand their sound in surprising ways while still retaining the same basic creative impulses that made them such a joy to watch develop over the past decade. Down to a trio now with the departure of Josh Dibb (a.k.a. Deakin), the Collective moves beyond the chiming guitars and winsome vocals of their previous works, focusing more on technicolor synths, samplers, and drum machine claps than the expected palette of acoustic strings and thumping toms.
Though they’ve toyed with electronics throughout much of their recording career, rarely has the Animal Collected harnessed those machines for such unabashed pop. Tracks like “My Girls” bounce along on irrepressible melodies, with Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s lyrics careening around the spaces left by the spare percussive claps. Elsewhere, “Daily Routine” skips across a sea of echoing beats that display a newfound sense of rhythmic subtlety, gradually giving way to oceans of reverberant vocals that take the track out on tones of Arthur Russell. Even more surprising here are the more contextualized forays into ambient passages care of Geologist, wound tightly into pop passages like the verses of “Also Frightened,” at times betraying an almost overt debt to techno like Gas.
Lyrically, too, Merriweather is an easy step above all that’s come before it. Eschewing the strange food themes that popped up a few times throughout Strawberry Jam, as well as any lingering animal fascinations, both vocalists here focus more on their families than anything else, using their words to describe the wide-eyed sense of wonder they see in the children, rather than attempting to reclaim any such feelings that maybe passed from their own minds long ago. In a way, it makes for the most mature Animal Collective recording to date, one that’s every bit as playful and energetic as their reputation would suggest, yet without any of the cringe-worthy moments that made their last go-round such an up and down listening experience.
Village Voice : 8/10
By Mike Powell
Animal Collective have released nine albums in the past nine years, all challenging, all imperfect but innovative, all substantially different. Some are placid, others orgiastic; some are convincingly reminiscent of dreams and drug trips, others convincingly reminiscent of third-graders; some are gummy and formless, others are almost—just almost—straightforward. Their peaks are high and their valleys embarrassingly low, but the trade-off has always struck me as fair: They've exposed the young white world to dub, South American, and African styles; they've futzed around with insular genres like noise and rave without frightening passersby; they've made dance music tolerable to the arms-folded crowd; they've managed to become eminently hip without sounding urbane. They're good-natured and a little weird. In short, they're the open-field festival band for a demographic that would scoff at the notion.
Fans will tell you that 2007's Strawberry Jam is a pop album, a hypothesis I invite you to test by sharing a listen with fellow passengers on a public bus. Context can be illuminating. It's true that Animal Collective's music has accessible elements to it: They write strong melodies. Their lyrics, when not warped beyond recognition by effects, are concrete and naive. And their giddiness has charm, even if it usually bubbles over into hysteria without table manners—screams, spurts, squeals, cave-ins.
And it's that—that ineluctable intensity, that font of adrenalin—that has always made listening to them as much a test as a pleasure. Animal Collective songs aren't just hyperactive, they're virulent and aggressive; they aren't just spaced-out, they're inert; they aren't just sweet, they're toxic. The band warps every emotion into its most confusing, acidic form.
Maybe it's drugs, which make routine experiences feel foreign, even scary; maybe it's just their stance that life is most thrilling at its least intelligible. After all, this is a band whose song about touring (2004's "Kids on Holiday") is written from the perspective of a scared child, not a moony journeyman. This is a band that focuses on the murk and trauma of firsts, not the lessons we learn in their wake.
And for as irritating as their histrionics can be—very!—it's also what makes their music special. At its most refined—parts of 2005's Feels—their music reminds me of the Coasters, the way it sparkles with wordless hoots and silly voices, the way it bounces and reels. The band pantomimes lack of control so convincingly that people still think their shows are improvised, even though they have a synched-up light show. There's something erotic but sexless about it—control being a masculine goal and all. It borrows danger from mystery, not muscle.
Compared to the rest of their protean catalog, Merriweather Post Pavilion—a record so hysterically anticipated by their fans that one actually broke into one of the members' e-mail accounts—is steady and even-keeled. It might not be pop, but it plays like it, with verses and choruses, without too many fits and starts, without too many harsh noises—without, for the first time ever, screaming. Psychedelia, it turns out, isn't easily compressed into pop-song proportions—that's just the nature of infinity. So, the concessions here are to the tame and slightly corny, the same the Flaming Lips made in the late '90s.
My love, then, is a little conditional. There are times I miss the band's teeth, the way their songs collapsed into noise, the defiant weirdness—stuff that made them seem like guys who not only had the spirit, but shook from it. But I will say that liking every aspect of an Animal Collective album, while a nice prospect, would make me think they'd somehow lost their edge.
And MPP is filled with enough new achievements that it's a waste of space to lament the past. It's a rhythm record with an atmosphere. It uses negative space like dub and canned euphoria like early rave music. It synthesizes all the styles they've flirted with and strains out just enough of what freaks out the normals. Geologist, always the least evident member of the band on record (he textures the songs with samples and field recordings) and most evident onstage (he wears a miner's headlight) is essential, flooding the mixes with disfigured nature recordings and whatever other gurgles and whooshes he keeps in his small, expensive-looking boxes.
I can't hear any guitars (though there may be a couple, severely processed). Most songs are weaves of glittery synths flowing over booms and thumps that reach hip-hop depths (engineered by Ben Allen, who has credits with Gnarls Barkley and Diddy). And, of course, voices: track after track of gorgeous vocal arrangements as harmonically expansive as they are rhythmically propulsive, as indebted to the Beach Boys as to the repetitive chants of African, South American, and gospel music.
What makes the album compelling, though, aren't its victories but its conflicts—over who the band are as experimental musicians, over who they are as three guys who've known each other since puberty now teetering on the edge of their thirties, over who they are as people with light mystical inclinations slaving to banalities like tour schedules, press meetings, and photo shoots. Right before "In the Flowers" ruptures into a spray of synthesizer fireworks, Avey Tare sings, "If I could just leave my body for a night," and I can't help but think about how much more difficult that must be for him now than when he was a college student with some free time and moist dope.
It'd be pat to say MPP is their album about growing up, but it is one about endings and beginnings. They sing about starting families; they sing about people they once knew; they fret over whether their capacity for youthful abandon is waning, and whether that's just part of life. Panda Bear's lyrics—deliberately plainspoken—are a contrivance, but a comforting one. "I don't mean to seem like I care about material things" or "I know it sucks that Daddy's gone" aren't complicated phrases, but then again, neither are the sentiments. Tare, who used to skulk in the background like a nightmare waiting to happen, now has a searching, introspective presence. If there's any lyric that sums up the album, it's his: "Sometimes I don't agree with my thoughts on being free." That's not psychedelic—it's lightly neurotic.
If youth is wasted on the young, it makes sense that most of Animal Collective's fans are between 18 and 35—when youth is bruised by responsibility, when innocence requires will (and some ignorance), and when reality becomes, well, a reality. My favorite lines about the band—specifically, Panda Bear's solo track, "Bros"—were written as a parody of Pitchfork on the unfortunately titled blog Hipster Runoff: "I lost my virginity while listening to Panda Bear's Person Pitch in the back of a vintage Volvo after having dropped acid for the first time. I started crying because it was s000 beautiful. The next day I listened 2 it again, and it was s0 chill." A couple of years down the road, it's just music, and sex is just something you do after work. What used to feel radical is now serene and assimilated. One day, you're just on the public bus, listening to Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Boston Globe : 8/10
by MATTHEW SHAER
Forget that latest national unemployment report or the news from the Middle East. Here's the real proof the world's gone topsy-turvy: Animal Collective, the wildest purveyors of tribal psychedelia this side of the Amazon Basin, have written an album about getting old. And not just old, but all domestic and stuff. "I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls," goes the verse of "My Girls," the gauzy pop masterpiece that tethers the whirl of "Merriweather Post Pavilion." On "Summertime Clothes," vocalists Avery Tare and Panda Bear discard the woozy romanticisms of youth for a simple avowal of affection: "I want to walk around with you." Cue the synth fireworks. A good many indie-rock bands have cut quarter-life crisis discs lately - check "Boxer," by the National, or LCD Soundsystem's "Sound of Silver." The difference here is one of mode. If the dudes in the National are realists, the three friends in Animal Collective (longtime member Josh Dibb didn't make this rodeo) are abstract expressionists. Some of the phrasing on "MPP" sticks; some of it soars; most of it slips and slides through puddles of rich sonic texture. Only at a distance does the magic of the whole major-key mess become clear.
Billboard : 8/10
By Lavinia Jones Wright
The wildly excessive buzz around the new Animal Collective album could have ruined the record before it was even released. But "Merriweather Post Pavilion" is so gorgeously confident that it fulfills expectations and more. With its sparkling choir of electronics, lingering chord changes and effervescent vocals that burble and drip as if sung underwater, the album speaks deftly for itself. Songs like "My Girls" and "Brother Sport" glide over catchy beats made of strange noises like rubbery echoes, while "Summer Clothes" is a sun-baked and touchingly peculiar/sincere ode to love. All of the familiar African chant and Brazilian beat influences of past Animal Collective albums are here, but masterminds Panda Bear and Avey Tare have perfected their use, which we hope will open up one of the best, and weirdest, contemporary bands to a wider audience.
Q Magazine : 8/10
With Merriweather Post Pavillion, Animal Collective have refined their distinctive vision, once again proving they are ahead of the pack. [Feb 2009, p.1114]
NOW Magazine : 8/10
By Tim Perlich
It seems that the reflex critical response to any new Animal Collective release is to call it “their most accessible recording ever.” While they’ve obviously raised production values for Merriweather Post Pavillion – the sound of guitars has been eclipsed by a sampledelic woosh and gurgle – Animal Collective fans will be relieved to find the group keeping a safe distance from mainstream pap.
Layered vocals carry bold melodies over frequently shifting keyboard textures as if they were shooting for a Pet Sounds of their own, but they’re no Beach Boys. They rely too heavily on repetition to avoid having to come up with memorable choruses. Even if there are no obvious choices for ass-shaking singles here like, say, Grass, it all hangs together quite nicely.
This is definitely an album designed for the iPod generation, recorded with repeated headphone listening rather than stadium rocking in mind.
New Musical Express : 8/10
By Emily Mackay
The picture of the sleeve on this page is nowhere near big enough. Go look it up online, as big as you can, and stare at it very hard. See how, as you try to focus on any one part of the tessellated pattern, the sections in the periphery of your vision shift and undulate, almost alive, making it impossible to pin the image down in your mind?
Right. Sadly for me, that’s probably given you a much better idea about the nature of the new Animal Collective album than the next 700 words will.
For while Baltimore avant-gardists AC have always been tricksy melders and magpies of genres and styles, on their eighth album, they’ve achieved musical alchemy and created something that is much more than the sum of its parts. ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ is a crate-digging, blog-reading, lost treasure-unearthing music nerd’s world of influences distilled into something that anyone, people who don’t even know what a blog is, can get immediately, and keep on getting at different levels. Take standout track ‘Summertime Clothes’, a sun-stroked piece of bio-mechanical mongrel pop with a Neu!-ish rhythm and the feel of Grandaddy in its spacey winsomeness: you could analyse it for hours. But you really don’t need to.
Animal Collective always fitted uncomfortably in the freak-folk camp, and nowadays they share far more sonically with Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, Of Montreal or the freakazoid organic electropop of Leila, Björk collaborators Matmos or Warp’s weirdest corners. Whereas early albums like ‘Here Comes The Indian’ were twisted, tortured things with one toe in the water of American folk, by 2004’s ‘Sung Tongs’, their sound was less harsh, but still crammed with ululations, barks and lolling, lilting, leering collages that complexified to unbearable mind-filling intensity before lulling into gentle ebbs. They made you work for their moments of transcendence.
Still, though, their unfeigned oddness was occasionally tainted by puerile surreality, or the odd burst of yawnsome pastoral (or “fuckin’ canoeing music” – Holy Ghost Revival’s one gift to the world, that term). Their most recent efforts, ‘Strawberry Jam’ and Panda Bear’s solo opus ‘Person Pitch’, continued the ascent into accessibility, with any remaining folk influence becoming less obvious in favour of a more playful, more relaxed, less try-hard spaced-out sound.
‘Merriweather…’, their psych-pop pinnacle, shares the simultaneous relentless complexity and instant simplicity of the best Of Montreal albums, but where Kevin Barnes’ last effort got lost in its clever-clever weirdness, shifting rhythms and textures in a way that felt like standing onboard a bus going down a mountain, Animal Collective’s is an easy, good-natured beast. ‘Guy’s Eyes’ in particular nails their wholesome, positive brand of psychedelia. It’s like, to reluctantly pull on the tiredest of psychedelic clichés, they swapped the acid for ecstasy (although really, they probably opted for a nice cup of tea).
The MDMAzement is strongest on ‘My Girls’, where Panda Bear, aka Noah Lennox, concocts a starry-eyed hymn to nest-building, cooing about “four walls and adobe slats for my girls”. It’s housey in both senses of the word, with an insistent synth line borrowed from Frankie Knuckles’ club classic ‘Your Love’ (and indeed, the song used to be called ‘House’ – Do. You. See.), and a great euphoric “whoo” on the refrain.
There’s a beaty bent through the whole album, although this is dance music hammered together from the weirdest of materials; ‘Lion In A Coma’ fashions a funky shuffle from a medieval rhythm and a didgeridoo. ‘In The Flowers’ starts with a long, oscillating Eno-esque intro before it’s engulfed in a wall of radiating ambient noise and a motorik beat, as Avey Tare fashions a new futurist folklore of kinetic energy, imagining “A dancer high in a field from her movement… I couldn’t stop that spinning force I felt in me”.
There are moments when they still trip off into self-indulgence: ‘Also Frightened’ is dreamy, a tribal, woozy waltzing that recalls CocoRosie via Björk, but stretches out just that little too long. ‘Bluish’ edges
a tiptoe too far into Fleet Foxes territory, but these are tiny moments in an album that’s overwhelmingly rich in invention and imagination.
‘Brothersport’ rounds it off perfectly, a resplendent orgy of Afrobeat pop with touches of hard house, like Orbital double-dropping with Fela Kuti or Vampire Weekend in space. It ends in radiant, My Morning Jacket-style harmonies and leaves you wondering what happened to your mind and ears.Put the album on again. Listen hard. Focus on each sound, analyse it, pin it down, pull it apart. It’ll just shift under your gaze and run off laughing. Or you could just run with it.
The Guardian : 8/10
By Dave Simpson
Named after their favourite 1960s rock venue and featuring no songs longer than six minutes, Animal Collective's hugely-anticipated ninth album is their most "pop." And yet, initially it makes no sense at all. Why are they combining hallucinatory kaleidoscopic sounds with thundering, almost junglist beats? What right has an avant-garde Baltimore folk-rock sampler band got to sound like Philip Glass? There are wind chimes, bleeps, tribal yelps and lyrics so abstract you couldn't begin to guess what they are, or mean. However, as the beguiling melodies take hold they unveil a tapestry of magic. From the impossibly blissful My Girls to the Beck-meets-Beach Boys glissando whirl of Summertime Clothes, this is a joyful, transcendent record somehow reminiscent of kids let loose in a musical sandpit. As winter rages around us, it ushers in the warmth and sets a high musical benchmark for others to match this year.
Mojo : 8/10
By far the most streamlined and purposeful Animal Collective record. [Jan 2008, p.98]
Spin : 8/10
By Andy Beta
From that point forward, these stalwart innovators -- David "Avey Tare" Portner (guitar, samples), Noah "Panda Bear" Lennox (drums, vocals, samples), and Brian "Geologist" Weitz (electronics, samples), now scattered among New York, Portugal, and Washington, D.C., respectively -- elude all experimental-noise, freak-folk, and indie-rock tags, and create a startling, pounding, effulgent sonic template. Somewhat incongruently, the album's title name-checks the Maryland venue where the Grateful Dead and others of their ilk often played during these high-school friends' tween years. But while jamming is certainly not Animal Collective's forte, their sound now recalls the Dead's quest for ecstatic release.
Call it searching for the perfect peak. Merriweather plays like the summation of a long, strange trip, combining the group's career touchstones: harmonic Beach Boys pop, African tribal chants, minimalism, minimal techno, psychedelia, and dub. Which is a bit of a jolt, since in 2007, it seemed as though the band members were heading down different paths. Critics split over Avey Tare's and Panda Bear's solo albums (disdain for the former's inscrutable Pullhair Rubeye with wife Kria Brekkan; universal praise for the latter's heartfelt Person Pitch). Then last year's Animal Collective album, the uneven Strawberry Jam, reaffirmed that divide -- Panda played the winsome boy next door, and Avey his screechy, cantankerous foil.
Here, on songs such as "Bluish" and "Lion in a Coma," Avey smooths out that spikiness, revealing his sweeter side. On the delirious "Summertime Clothes," he details the pleasures of strolling the hot, garbage-filled New York City streets at night with his beloved, while Geologist piles on the incessant pulses and sonic squishes. Panda is similarly smitten on "My Girls," a beatific husband and father singing that he only wants "a proper house" for his "girls."
In years past, Animal Collective have been cast as perpetual Peter Pans, forever stuck in childhood fantasias. But beneath the body-moving throbs and coruscating noises of Merriweather Post Pavilion, themes of domestic duty and devotion abound. On the resplendent closer, "Brother Sport," Panda consoles his older brother after their father's death, advising him to follow his own voice. As the beat grows increasingly joyous, the song sends a message to family and fans alike: "Open up your throat," sings Panda, and rave on.
Rolling Stone : 7/10
By WILL HERMES
Like the Grateful Dead before them, the psychedelic heads of Animal Collective are evolving from raging sonic hallucinations into gentler, more melodic trips. The ninth disc from this Brooklyn/Baltimore crew tries balancing shameless beauty with ecstatic weirdness, and when they nail it, it's breathtaking. "Summertime Clothes" is a swirling pastoral with dance-music thrust, while "Guys Eyes" is a cauldron of the Pet Sounds vocal fractals. "Lion in a Coma" and "No More Runnin" get lost in their own oddness. But the magic returns on "Brothersport," a bacchanalian Brian Wilson-meets-Kraftwerk jam that repeats "open up your throat." Whether it's a celebration of singing, magic mushrooms or blow jobs is your call.
Under The Radar : 7/10
In Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective become too fascinated with the way things sound (Animal Collective may be the only band for whom this sometimes becomes a problem) and loses the emotional resonance of their best work. [Winter 2009]
Blender : 7/10
by Douglas Wolk
Animal Collective are a polarizing band—they go out of their way to avoid “normal” rock arrangements, and their emphasis on mystique (via fanciful stage names) and webs of texture means they are often annoying as all fuck. They’re not exactly focused on making sense, and although they liberally sweeten their eighth album with pinched, reverbed Beach Boys harmonies, only a few intelligible phrases pop out of their mantra-like chants: “Four walls and adobe slats for my girls” or “I want to walk around with you.” Still, this is their sunniest, most likeable record, leavened by hints of light-footed dance music: “Summertime Clothes” is guitarless glam-rock, and the samba beat of “Brothersport” keeps careening into a rave-siren loop. And what seem at first like abstract, sparkly electronic cascades and distant twangs and thumps resolve into actual tunes. For once they sound like they’re playing around rather than experimenting.
Phoenix : 7/10
By MICHAEL PATRICK BRADY ,| January 6, 2009
Animal Collective began as a band of fringe weirdos, but over time they've dropped the freak from their folk and shed the frenzied noisemaking and impenetrable aura that created much of their early mystique. Merriweather Post Pavilion further smoothes out their sound, and though it's full of cool, orchestrated beauty, it lacks the playfulness and spontaneity that endeared so many to this group.
The best track, "My Girls," starts with a glittering recursive melody over which Panda Bear and Avey Tare unfurl their intricate harmonies, putting a greater emphasis on lyrics here than ever before. The song is a complicated ode to simplicity: "I just want four walls and adobe slabs," they sing, "for my girls," and it all benefits from the implementation of synths and drum machines. Tare wins big with the sweetly sung song of unrequited love, "Bluish"; his vocal recalls some of the finer moments of Feels as it overwhelms the uninspiring, reverb-heavy guitar loop accompaniment.
Overall, though, the move away from organic instrumentation has dampened Animal Collective's spirits; once fluid and anarchic, they've become patterned and precise, unwilling to color outside the lines, more animatronic than animalistic. "Guys Eyes," "Daily Routine," and "Taste" adhere to what becomes a familiar formula: overlapping harmonies and pulsating beats blurring into indistinct memories.
Austin Chronicle : 5/10
BY DOUG FREEMAN
The praise bestowed on Animal Collective is justified, even if the exultation over the Baltimore-born trio's latest LP is overblown. From the group's freak-folk anticipation on 2003's Campfire Songs to its ushering in indie's new density with Feels (2005), the Collective forges musical frontiers even when the results are scattershot. Merriweather Post Pavilion decamps as the outfit's most consistent album, readily remixable but largely lacking moments of thrilling unexpectedness that redeemed the band's electro-eccentricities. "In the Flowers" opens with an eerie and subdued underwater warp, but its midsong surge is predictable and uninspired, as opposed to the touch of Beach Boys harmonies on the equally mellow "Bluish." "My Girls" and "Summertime Clothes" are catchy highlights, the latter layering skuzzy beats under chanted verses, but the droning "Daily Routine" is as tedious as its title. Animal Collective has backslid into a comfortable, but unfortunately unexciting, middle ground.