By: Greg Gargiulo
Subject yourself to a full listen of Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion (released Jan. 6 [LP]/Jan. 20 [CD] on Domino Records) and you're accepting an invitation to an audible feast, of sorts, hosted and meticulously designed by the Collective and set in a warped world they've constructed over time. All they tacitly request is you leave the arrangements entirely up to them, pay close attention to whatever's happening around you, and stay for the duration of the affair. Upon completing dessert (or the closing notes of final track "Brother Sport"), you'll understand exactly why.
By far their most cohesive and fluent release to date, the highly-anticipated Merriweather reels listeners in and leads them through an epic, reflective outpouring, ordered and textured in a style that narrates stories, poses questions and offers odd forms of two-cents. In executing their ninth album - named after an outdoor venue near the band's Maryland origins they once frequented - the Collective has pressed a deeply emotional record that flows unlike anything else they've yet done, but continues to retain their characteristically unclassifiable sound of primal nature, twisted tweaks and beats and obscure content.
The Collective (Deakin, Panda Bear, Geologist and Avey Tare has long been dedicated to seeking out and archiving sounds of every imaginable pitch and tone, and it's something they've been able to do with uncanny success. While most of their earlier works loosely string their discoveries together without much attention to structure or direction, Merriweather is their greatest breakthrough in actually organizing their broad sonic palette and assigning them values that enhance, carry and direct the strange musical beast that hatches from their minds.
Most tracks on the album have already made their way into the live rotation, some with slightly different titles, but the fine attention to productive details brings a level of crispness and clarity that's difficult to replicate onstage. "My Girls," with its bumpin' subterranean bassline could pass for a seriously danceable track in some deranged underground nightclub, while the much mellower live version, once called "Little Girl (I Don't Need)," doesn't pick up nearly as much steam despite the infectious harmonies of Avey Tare and Panda Bear that carry the track. "Summertime Clothes" shares a similar danceable composite, sounding something like tapes of The The's "This is the Day," The Cure's "Lovecats" and Paul Simon's "Homeless" all dropped in a vat of battery acid and re-spun as one just for kicks. Both tracks exemplify a lurid ethereality that runs thick in every corner of the album, a bizarre balance between magical dreamscapes and haunting underworlds.
Meeting in the middle, Merriweather can be categorized as conceptual due to recurring themes, but it's not quite a concept album. The high-pitched pianos and fairytale-like essence of opener "In the Flowers" initiate what could be an album-long, medieval love story. The particular plotline doesn't carry through, but the quirky ballad "Bluish" and "No More Runnin," in a not-so-typical fashion, both muse passionately at a loved figure. The circusy "Also Frightened" and thumping "Daily Routine" deal with family life and the common fears associated with raising a child - a realistic grounding amid the gripping fantasy of it all. Following this format, musically and textually, "Brother Sport" takes every favorable element - the tribal screams, serenading howls, unidentifiable sounds and unconventional wisdom - and heightens them all for a final, balls-to-the-wall processional. With Pan's pipes just barely detectable, the closing mash-up places a celebratory period on a very special ride, exhibiting the same type of fearless extroversion of self that brought them to this point.
As the dazzling cover shifts and morphs and moves depending on your perspective and focus - concentrating on either the patterned peapods in the forefront or psychedelic purples in the backdrop - so goes the LP itself: No matter what layer you choose to hone in on, there's an inspiring, ever-changing platform of moving material around it. Since listening through once is already accepting the invite, how deep you delve into this beautiful accomplishment is simply a matter of what degree you're willing to succumb.
JamBase | Thick of It
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