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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion


1) In The Flowers; 2) My Girls; 3) Also Frightened; 4) Summertime Clothes; 5) Daily Routine; 6) Bluish; 7) Guys Eyes; 8) Taste; 9) Lion In A Coma; 10) No More Runnin'; 11) Brother Sport.

One decade of fooling around, and here is the payoff: Merriweather Post Pavilion put the Ani­mal Collective in the big league, not only prompting rave reviews on the part of every respectable penname, but even climbing surprisingly high up the charts, perhaps on the strength of these re­views. Perhaps the most surprising element, though, is how they managed to do it unaccompanied by irate cries of "sell out" from their dedicated guard of honour.

There are some important technical differences from Strawberry Jam. All of it was written and recorded in the absence of Deakin, the band's primary guitarist, so that samplers are on the move again and the album has much more of an "electronic symphony" feel to it than its predecessor. On the other hand, the band continues to raise the bar on their production values — this is, I think, the album on which the last traces of the "homebrewn" atmosphere have been erased. Welcome to the professional world.

But then there is an even bigger break: Pavilion also continues the trend of transforming the out­fit from a pack of weird fairytale goofballs into a team of super-serious Messengers, equipped with a serious claim. What that claim is, I am not sure; perhaps it does not even exist, because these days it is doggone hard to distinguish real Messengers from phoney ones. However, even if they are phonies, they now know how to do a pretty good job of faking it.

My biggest problem with Strawberry Jam was the lack of soul; maybe their own problem was similar, because on Pavilion, it looks like they are actively searching for it, even if they may not necessarily have found it. Whatever the answer, their vision of "soul" includes adding the follo­wing elements: (a) ever-increasing production depth — "soul" implies an impression of being hid under a bunch of layers, and you get a better chance of conveying "soul" if you sound like you're playing out of the bottom of a well than if you're diddling on your listener's front porch; (b) ever improving vocal arrangements — now they're openly quoting the Beach Boys' moves (listen to the 'then we could be dancing / no more missing you while I'm gone' passage on the opening track... sound familiar?) and, even when they are not, they still leave behind the scent of Brian Wilson's trail to spiritual enlightenment; (c) including more and more "catchy" and "accessible" melodic elements in many of their songs — the "hit number" 'My Girls' is practically hummable, and the chorus to 'Bluish' ('Put on the dress that I like...') is hummable and gorgeous; (d) injecting more sense — or, at least, pretending to inject more sense — into the lyrics, so that professional reviewers like Mark Richardson of Pitchforkmedia can come up with ultra-meaningful conclusi­ons like (I quote) 'the words reinforce the sense of vulnerability that cuts through the music, and wind up being an essential component on an album that oozes confidence from every pore'.

Shiver me timbers, I have no idea how you can combine 'vulnerability' with 'confidence' in the exact same spot, but then one thing has certainly not changed for the Animal Collective: they still make it one of their major goals to confuse their audiences, especially confuse them into writing assessments of their music whose meaninglessness increases in direct proportion to their assumed seriousness. So let us not hold it against Mark Richardson who is, I am sure of that, writing from the very depths of his heart. It's just that they have been confused, these depths.

In more simple terms, Merriweather Post Pavilion has some beautiful pop melodies ('Bluish'), some inspiring martial melodies ('Summertime Clothes'), some head-spinning atmospheric melo­dies ('No More Runnin'), and some disturbingly pretentious statement songs ('My Girls') that rail against 'fancy things' and 'social status', for the first time ever establishing the band's socio-po­li­ti­cal creed and providing the indie community with one of the decade's loudest anthems. If you can stand all the tape loops and the relatively monotonous style of vocal arrangements, Pavilion may even seem to be their most diverse record, although the quintessence behind all the songs is really the same, and the effect of "kaleidoscopic rainbow" is being generated more or less equally by all of its individual tracks.

Whether that rainbow is a real one or made out of plastic is something I have not been able to un­derstand, even on my own personal level — the album has grown much upon me since the first listen, but I am still not ready to accept the same warmth I used to get from 'good, good, good, good vibrations' from 'open up your, open up your, open up your throat' ('Brother Sport'), and it is not just the lyrics — it is still the same nagging feeling that, for Panda Bear and Avey Tare, form comes first and substance comes next, if it comes at all.

One thing is for certain: no matter how much critical praise, or even commercial success, is awarded to Pavilion today, it will never do the same thing for its generation that Pet Sounds did for theirs — for one simple reason: only a small handful of people will be able to sincerely react to it on the same level that a lot of people were able to react to Brian Wilson's teenage sympho­nies half a century before. And even if this small handful of people represents the sharpest and brightest minds of their generation (how do we know, though?), this would only mean that their elitist asses will be kicked into the dust pretty soon. And anyway, I do not want to live in a world where the highest standard of "art" is represented by Merriweather Post Pavilion any more than I want to live in a world where Taylor Swift stays at the top of the charts for over a month.

In short, my intellect's response to the album is a thumbs up, my heart's response is predictably con­fused, and my overall feeling, upon re-reading the review, seems somewhat suicidal. But I sus­pect that is exactly the kind of reaction that the Animal Collective wanted to extract from me.


  1. I don't know why I prefer Tame Impala to Animal Collective. Tame Impala is much more accessible and hooky I guess. Or maybe it is because its derivative from the late 60's psychedelia. Or because Parker's voice sounds like Lennon?

  2. One of my favorite albums of the 00s. Funny, because this is the only Animal Collective album that has left an impression on me. Don't get me wrong, I love all their other albums, but this album is the only album of theirs that can be considered a masterpiece, while all their other albums are just good albums. Using the original Only Solitaire rating, I'll give this a 12/15.