Merriweather Post Pavilion
By Clayton Purdom, Traviss Cassidy, & Dom Sinacola | 17 January 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.