Saturday, January 10, 2009

Merriweather Post Pavillion (Animal Collective) (2009)


Two years ago Animal Collective decided to play a little game of dare in the blogosphere and have the chips fall where they may. Both dares---the critically acclaimed Strawberry Jam and Person Pitch---were immense triumphs. Yet in the process of this revelry of sound was rooted a division that no one involved except them could foretell its outcome. Critics fell over themselves in praise of Person Pitch, hailing group member Panda Bear as the next electronic messiah in the process. Words were lavished upon its organic tone and Beach Boys-like sunny verses. In fact, this praise nearly drowned out the reception for Strawberry Jam, an album that naturally featured Panda Bear but just not on lead. This was seen as Avery Tare’s counterpunch, a stealthy directive that could only leave one leader standing. I, for one, fell for Strawberry Jam hard because it is their ‘pop’ album: a convincing juxtaposition of their hazy, water-logged sound and catchy lines. Amid this tussle though it became clear that aspiring electronic musician had a new model to emulate but still which direction would it be for them to follow?

The answer is, of course, the brilliant Merriweather Post Pavillion. This end result was always going to be the band’s to provide and instead of abandoning either ship, Animal Collective have cemented their union with the marriage of both pop and electronic sounds into one huge, larger-than-life apotheosis. One can always tell when a band has transgressed when their every release is seen and felt as a statement. As is their tradition, they gave hint of their resolve on the Water Curses EP last year but kept the real stunning stuff to themselves until now.

The album opens with the dreamy In the Flowers, a track that rumbles as if underwater with heavenly choruses being shouted out by the band. It’s the best thing here, with its potent poetry (‘if I could just leave my body for the night/ then we could be dancing/ no more missing you while I’m gone’) and seamless production matching its sombre, regretful tone. The track—indeed the entire album-- celebrates not just the restless New York energy that defines Animal Collective but also the precious memories and loved ones they’ve gathered along the way. The lucid song writing of Avery Tare and Panda Bear can claim the giddy heights of John Lennon/Paul McCarthy because what Merriweather Post Pavillion really excels at is manifesting the band’s personality; something most electronic groups cannot yet put forth on record.

This frees the band to experiment within a foiled sound that seemingly has become their own. Also Frightened overdubs itself more pointedly with each verse, with no apparent hook other than repeating its chorus and dragging its lines along to full psychedelic effect. Such audacity only comes from a band assured in its stature and not concerned with playing it safe. Even bolder is the anthem aspirations of songs like Bluish and My Girls, both swirl with heavy grooves and performed well in advance at concerts. Other tracks like Brother Sport reveal a personal side to the band with lines like, ‘I know it sucks that Daddy’s dumb/ open up your throat Matt/ support your brothers’. It’s more than poignant to hear Panda Bear address a personal issue on record like this (Brother Sport is for his brother, aimed to console for their father’s passing) but also vital to the process of life itself. Art does not stand outside of real life and Merriweather Post Pavillion triumphs by recognizing that and embracing it wholeheartedly.

Of course, it’s all very manipulative to a musical extent. Nothing about Merriweather is left to chance. Critics who may have felt the need to hesitate with the left-leaning Strawberry Jam have been buttered up into the Person Pitch comparison trap viciously thus can offer no opposition here. Hell, even Panda Bear has gone on record already to state that this is, in his view, the best thing they’ve ever assembled. As the reviews churn out expectedly greater than before (Pitchfork even went as far as to assign its mega-serious 9.6 rating) it is obvious that come year-end this opus will be highly regarded still. I call that a win for this group of friends who, rather than divide over creative styles, remain together to craft inimitable songs about their love of music. Now if only Deakin can pull himself together then the trio can become a foursome again. For now though this is a clear checkmate, a game over career move. Time for critics to unreservedly hand them their crown and a fork while they’re at it, the sooner for the band to start carving out their next fantastic sonic adventure. It may be very ealy in the year but I suspect already that a better album will not be released this year.