Review of the Week: Animal Collective

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

In May 2007, Animal Collective came to the Wexner Center performance space and staged a hippie rave. It was a transcendent musical experience, the musicians forgoing their weirdo Americana roots and wringing beauty and grace from a set of thumping, skronking machines. At the time, I hoped the band would release an album of that material, but when Strawberry Jam came out later that year, it was a middling set of freakouts and dirges that bore only passing resemblance to the show they had staged a few months prior in Columbus. Aside from the badass bounce of "Peacebone," very little about that album appealed to me. What, I wondered, became of those glorious grass-stained grooves?

It seems the band's live show is farther ahead of the curve than I realized. Only now, almost two years later, have those sounds emerged on record. The group's latest, Merriweather Post Pavilion, comes close to recreating that night's computerized haze, presenting Animal Collective at its most electronic while maintaining the primitive vigor that has always characterized its best work. Merriweather may not prove to be the album of the year, but it's certainly a good start.

The record plays like an Animal Collective megamix, weaving together strands of all their past iterations and setting them to club beats that hem, haw and heave rather than simply pound away. The chopped up Valhalla of Panda Bear's acclaimed Person Pitch is an obvious reference point, but his partner in crime Avey Tare left just as much of a stamp on this record. Tare's "Brian Wilson-as-tribal-master-of-ceremonies" shtick remains prominent, but it never gets as overbearing here as it has in the past.

After five or six listens, Merriweather still seems like a dream. Few specific songs stick out in my memory — only the exultant in-the-round chorus of "My Girls," really. Instead, this is that rare artifact of the digital age: an album listener's album. It's served best as a full banquet, not a series of snacks. Low-end thumps and burbles maintain a consistent feel throughout. Up in the clouds, squealing high-end keyboard parts cut across the mix like bolts of lightning. Sounds echo and skip. Oohs and aahs abound.

The lyrics are, as usual, surprisingly relatable yet still trippy as hell. "Am I really all the things that are outside of me?" they chant on "Taste." On "My Girls," the band recalls MGMT's "Weekend Wars" and its desire for a more primal life — "I don't mean/ To seem like I care about material things/ Like your social stats/ I just want/ Four walls and adobe slats for my girls."

The straightforward lyrics help to keep Merriweather from floating too far into the nether regions of inaccessibility. It's a challenging album, but also highly approachable — hell, it's named for a big box concert amphitheater in suburban Maryland. Don't let the "pop" tag fool you, though. Every successive Animal Collective release since Sung Tongs has been billed as the group's "pop" album, and while this one slathers on the grooves and melodies like never before, I'm still skeptical about such claims. Isn't pop music about instant gratification? Merriweather offers little bits of quick fix, but mostly it rewards repeat listens and close attention. That's not what I want from pop, but it's exactly what I want in my headphones during the cold, contemplative months ahead.