Thursday, February 19, 2009

Album Review: Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion
Rating: I have never met someone from Hoboken, New Jersey that I didn't want to immediately put in a headlock.

I read somewhere that if you wanted to start a fight within the community of slack-jawed alternative yokels that read the magazine No Depression, all you had to do was bring up Wilco’s 1999 album Summerteeth. Some of them loved it and embraced Chicago’s favorite sons' new sense of experimentation. The others hated it, and felt the St. Louis band had snubbed the alternative country scene. (A scene that Chuck Klosterman once accurately pointed out rested on the laurels of a bunch of musicians born in the late 1960s writing songs about their experiences during the Great Depression and their affinity for fine malt whiskey.) I really do think there were certain Wilco fans that were reluctant to sign off on such a dramatic shift of sound. But there was something else at play, too. Some fans just weren’t ready to share the band with the new fans roped in by Summerteeth.

The same sort of thing could be at play with Animal Collective’s eighth album Merriweather Post Pavilion (hereinafter, MPP). MPP has a slightly more generous sound than their prior records, and those that have never heard or bothered with Animal Collective might finally tune in and start to understand what all the fuss is about. Therefore, if I had to guess (and I base this on nothing, mind you, other than a hunch), I wouldn’t be surprised if there are certain Animal Collective fans who have been around since the Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished days that are lining up to hate, or at least slightly resent, MPP. Take the second track “My Girls.” It’s an incredible song with all the proper Animal Collective experimental ingredients along with the requisite nonsensical chorus (“I don't mean to seem like I care about material things like a social status/ I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls.”). Oh, and it’s catchy as hell. So catchy your mom might like it. And there’s nothing like a great melody and moms to piss off the original fan base.

The album starts off with “In the Flowers,” a showcase of dreamy pop that eventually navigates into a series of crashing drums and just a big mess of awesome noises and vocals. Oh, brother, I really like this song. That notwithstanding, if the melody from “In the Flowers” isn’t lifted directly from the underwater levels from Super Nintendo’s 1994 classic Donkey Kong Country, then I didn’t beat that game during a 37-hour Coca-Cola and Doritos induced barrage of button-pushing instincts unrivaled to this day. So move over Coldplay and Joe Satriani, we might have another lawsuit on our hands.

MPP was actually released in several forms right after the New Year, and that’s when we here at NQL initially planned to do something with the record. But after glowing reviews starting pouring in from every direction, we thought it would be better to take a step back, give it a month, and then take another look. The best way to determine an album’s worth is usually after the honeymoon is over. (I believe this last sentence to be true. But what I wrote before it is a complete lie. What actually happened was laziness set in and before we knew it the album had been out for well over a month and we hadn’t done anything. The delay was completely unplanned.)

I bring this up because the virtues of the album become nearly impossible to ignore after listening to track 7, “Taste.” It’s not the strongest track on MPP, but it’s the first time I allowed myself to come to grips with the fact that this is a pretty great record. It’s an admission that must be made when you’ve been listening to an album nearly non-stop for a month and can still breeze through the half-way point with no intention of changing the dial. And symbolism aside, it’s a pretty good song. At the 0:37 mark, a really weird noise serves as a springboard for another rather catchy melody. And yes, when I review an album, that’s as good of a musical description you will get from me: a really weird noise and a catchy melody. Robert Christgau I am not.

That’s not to say they are all winners on MPP. “Daily Routine” is a bit of a bore, and “No More Runnin” is so sleepy it nearly cured the headache I got from staring at the ridiculous album cover. But if they’re the worse MPP has to offer, you can go to sleep at night knowing you’re in good hands. You can also rest assured knowing they’re the only tracks that have any stench of filler. Most of the tracks so brazenly attempt to mix creativity with basic pop sensibilities, that at the very least, you have to applaud the effort. For example, “Lion in a Coma” and the last track, “Brother Sport,” are so worldly absurd they wouldn’t be out of place on the Jungle Book Soundtrack. And I mean that in the most endearing way possible because you’re probably going to love these two songs, while at the same time trying to comprehend what you're actually listening to. At least, that's what happened to me.

Just as these two songs, along with the aforementioned “My Girls,” will be inviting to people looking for room on the Animal Collective bandwagon, I suspect they are the same songs that could potentially persuade veteran Animal Collective fans to give up their existing seats. But the more I think about it, there’s a good chance I am wrong. Even with this record, Animal Collective is still not going to appeal to the Rhianna crowd, or to even a large segment of people who own Arcade Fire records. The fresh and funky pop still gives way to that sense of avant-garde-ism that has always dominated their sound. And if there are any old Animal Collective fans who do find MPP to be just a tad too welcoming to all the new faces now listening to the band, I’ll be happy to let them borrow my copy of A.M. to keep them busy until something more akin to their taste comes along. In fact, they can keep it. I insist.



Audrey said...

I couldn't disagree more on "Daily Routine" and you failed to mention "Bluish". Those two plus "Taste" have been between my ears nonstop for everything I've been doing the past three weeks of my life. Nothing has made the mundane act of crossing a street looking at traffic lights more delightful.

Jim P. said...

I think the album overall is just kind of ok, but "My Girls" and "In the Flowers" are great. I love the down-the-rabbit-hole quality of "In the Flowers". It's a perfect opener.

Alex said...

"Bluish" is a good song. Although I can't understand a single word Panda Bear or Avey Stoudemire are saying. "In the Flowers" is slowly becoming my favorite song on the album.

Travis said...

Intentional or not, this is really a perfect time to take a look at this album. I think a lot of people didn't want to miss the boat* on declaring this album to be brilliant, myself included. On my first listen,the excellence of the first two tracks brought a lot of goodwill to the rest of the album. That has been tempered by time, however, and I'm pretty much in agreement with Alex's take.

*or should I say, "ark"? Get it? Animal Collective / Collection of Animals? Like Noah? In the Bible? Jesus?

Gio said...

I am generally diffident about the hype for a band. This time i was completely wrong, great album!

Brian said...

I'm with Jim Powers on this one. I like a couple-three songs but overall MPP doesn't have the impact--for me, anyway--of Sung Tongs or Feels.

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