Friday 16 January 2009

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

Originally published by [sic]Magazine

It may only be the middle of January but for the last few days I have been enjoying almost constant sunshine as I listen to a ridiculously early contender for album of the year. I also feel a little woozy too due to the rather trippy album art above, but it's my own fault for staring too long. Animal Collective have been making music for a while now which plays fast and free with influences, approach and steadfastly refuses to be labelled easily. But at the same time they have never been in danger of crossing over into the mainstream and a wider audience with albums which always contained tasty treats but never quite managed the satisfaction of a slap up meal from start to finish.

Part of this is due to the fragmented nature of their sound, their desire to push the envelope and also of course the ethos behind their collective which means that not all members have to be present for each recording. Merriweather Post Pavilion sees Josh Dibb (aka Deakin) taking a break and the influence of Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) coming to the forefront. After being such a fan of Person Pitch I have to say this makes me very happy. And it should make you happy to because it also makes for their most satisfying album yet.

All the elements you might expect are there: tribal beats, ambient noise, sampled instrumentation, sunshine soaked psychedelia, and harmonised vocals. Some reviewers have called it their most accessible album or even a pop album but don't be fooled into thinking that this is an easy listening experience. Avey Tare said in a recent interview that they "..want people to hear the melodies and to pick up on things. I don't know if we're getting better or just doing it in a different way." Well those melodies are much clearer right from the opening track which begins with quiet vocals reminiscent of Mercury Rev before thumping beats come in and the melody carries the touching lyrics about missing somebody you love (which picks up on what Avey Tare has mentioned as the album's theme: "being away from home a lot in the past year, from our girlfriends or wives or families"). This is followed by one of the album's standout tracks. 'My Girls' starts with a triplet beat on the keyboard which might remind you of 'You Got The Love' by The Source but when the harmonised vocals come in and sharp percussion it becomes a catchy song about a man's love for his family complete with an ecstatic 'Woooh!' in the chorus. I'm not making that sound very good am I? Just listen and I bet you'll love it.

Male harmony singing can be repetitive across an album's length but here the sheer diversity of styles means that they're never less than interesting and often so much more. On 'Guys Eyes' the voices are seperated, each following a seperate line like singing a round only for them to be united in the chanted 'need her' which is pushed along by tribal drumming. It's complex, intricate and brilliantly effective. 'Daily Routine' stutters in with a tentative fairground organ, the body of the song a mechanical sounding rendition of a repeated journey but at the end, as the organ fragments, extended vocals resolve the melody into a glorious finish. The inevitable mention of the Beach Boys now comes with 'Bluish' which is a gorgeous love song, kept honest by smart lyrics ('I like your looks when you get mean/I know I shouldn't say so but when you/Claw me like a cat, I'm beaming') and the constant sampled drone underneath its sweet pop melody. Hearts are clearly being worn on sleeves and that kind of romanticism pops up again with almost-ballad No More Runnin which is, well, beautiful.

As you would expect the album is bursting with sounds; animal, vegetable and mineral, with rhythms and percussion to match. But the clarity comes from the strength of the actual tunes and more than ever the genuine warmth of the lyrics. It's perfect that the album closes with the ludicrously positive 'Brother Sport', a bouncing and slightly bonkers floor filler (although it seems far more appropriate to think of people dancing around outside, arms held up to the sky) which is infectious in the extreme and a fitting climax to an explosive but coherent album. It rewards repeated listens, each journey through highlighting something new whilst unifying what you've already noticed. You couldn't ask for much more in the cold months at the beginning of the year, especially with all that gloom out there, and it just may be that when summer really arrives this album will have established itself as a constant companion.


Anonymous,  16 January 2009 at 09:33  

You beat me to it again William !
I've had this for a couple of days now and I definitely agree it's their most satisying and consistent album to date. I always felt in the past that their albums were quite patchy - from the sublime to the unbearable - but this is the album I've always wanted them to make.

I need to give it some more time but this could be a defining modern psychedelic album - their Soft Bulletin or Deserter's Songs. Their album 'Feels' grew on me with time but 'Merriweather' is more immediate, more urgent, but so dense with ideas it takes time to unravel. Strange release date though, don't you think?

William Rycroft 16 January 2009 at 10:34  

You'd think that with such an overtly 'summery' album a release date nearer the middle of the year would make more sense but the same thing happened with Vampire Weekend last year. I guess it gives us all time to desperately want to see them come festival time.

You're right about their past albums and the immediacy of this one, I guess that's why I beat you to it, they made it easy for me to review. Time will tell if it has genuine staying power. I suspect it has.

Anonymous,  16 January 2009 at 15:56  

William, you remain the most convincing advocate of good new (to me) music - well, along with my annoyingly cool brother-in-law. This sounds like a TV on the Radio-level recommendation to me! If I can find a Zavvi that hasn't closed down tomorrow, I'll snap it up.

bobblog 16 January 2009 at 21:21  

Love the review!

Heh im writing up a review of the album for the VJ blog

In a strange way I feel that Deerhoof and Animal Collective are going down similar paths as both bands started out with inconsistent early albums and as time progressed they moved into more ear friendly territories.

I personally think that Merriweather is a perfect album (my fave being summertime clothes) and it will be the one that propels them into a much wider audience.

2009 is going to be a great album year and as this one kick started it proves that there will be amazing sounds for the next 11 months.

William Rycroft 17 January 2009 at 10:10  

Thank you gentlemen. I'm certainly enjoying listening to it, especially given the miserable weather outside my window right now.

Good luck in your search for an open retail outlet John.

Bob, I'm sure you'll agree that it's great to hear bands making progress rather than blasting out of the blocks with a stunning debut and then failing to deliver after that. I hope you're right about 2009....

Anonymous,  18 January 2009 at 17:59  

I picked the album up yesterday - in HMV, as although one of our Zavvi stores is still open, of course they're too much in-administration to buy new stock - but haven't had a chance to listen to it through yet. This is largely because I only get to listen to music properly in the car, and I mostly have my wife (or today, mother) as passenger, and am told to turn that bloody rubbish down, you have terrible taste in music you know John, have you got any of that nice Leona Lewis?

However. Initial feeling is that I like tracks 2, 4 and 7. Have no idea what these are called as the packaging writes them so cryptically and is to time-consuming to open that I got quite annoyed with the album before I'd even put it on.

Curiously, the opticial illusion 'motion' effect of the cover design doesn't work at all in the hard copy, only on the computer screen image here.

William Rycroft 18 January 2009 at 21:36  

Yup it's the image on this post I've been staring at whilst writing my review. On cardboard it doesn't seem to work so well, I think it's something to do with the motion of the eye and focus or something.

I hope the album grows on you as it has done on me John. You mentioned my 'TV On The Radio like' praise; whilst I don't think it's that good, it's certainly the best album I've heard since then. As for taste let me assure you that tracks 2 (My Girls), 4 (Summertime Clothes), and 7 (Guys Eyes) are all impeccable choices.

Anonymous,  19 January 2009 at 11:17  

I will listen to it at the gym today, which I usually find is a good way of actually concentrating on new music without interruption.

I see the Observer Music Monthly reviewed it yesterday, giving it four stars and singling out 'Summertime Clothes' for praise as the only track where the vocals aren't way down in the mix. I think that may be part of my initial resistance to the album, along with the fact that all the songs are five minutes long - almost an hour of music? I wouldn't want to do something I liked for that long.

Max Cairnduff 6 October 2010 at 11:43  

One of the best albums I've bought recently. Just spectacular and it got me a lot more interested in the Brooklyn scene generally.

I didn't see a writeup of Dirty Projectors. I saw them live a while back and they were simply tremendous, utterly into what they are doing. It's another slow burn album for me, unlike this which I got as soon as I paid it attention and stopped putting it on while doing other things (it's really not background music).

William Rycroft 6 October 2010 at 12:07  

The Brooklyn scene is extraordinary it seems. There must be nothing but musicians and singers living in that borough.

I never did write up a review of Dirty Projectors but only because I came to it a while after it was released and others had already done a grand job by then. It's a great album isn't it. So varied and exciting.

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