Merriweather Post Pavilion
Domino Records, 2009
By Giovanni Colantonio
Since their creation at the start of the new millennium, Animal Collective has been constantly evolving. Though they have always had a very distinct sound, the band always seemed to push themselves even further with each new album. This point really became clear in 2007 with the release of Strawberry Jam. Everything they had recorded for the past seven years all fell into place, creating a psychedelic-noise-pop masterpiece. Now, two years later, Animal Collective has struck again with their latest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion. But despite the band’s seemingly unstoppable momentum, their latest effort seems to be a step back rather than a leap forward.
Instead of expanding on Strawberry Jam and its follow-up EP, Water Curses, Merriweather Post Pavilion feels more like a sequel to singer/drummer Panda Bear’s 2007 solo effort, Person Pitch. Each song is covered in ambient loops, which twist around one another to eventually produce a trippy pop song. At first, this is actually rather gratifying. Opening track “In The Flowers” begins with a chaotic swirl of electronic noise, before slowly morphing into a dreamy composition. Soon, the noise sparks up again, until the loops transform into the album’s addictive pop single “My Girls.”
While hearing these songs structure themselves out of seemingly disorganized noise is interesting, it becomes somewhat boring once nearly every song follows this same pattern. After a while, it feels like a chore to sift through the noise just for the payoff of music. It’s worked quite well for the band in the past in songs like “Peacebone,” but they got a little too pedal-happy here. Rather than feeling like natural moments that progress the music, these noise sections seem a bit forced. They sound as if they were created by a band trying too hard to impersonate Animal Collective.
The album really works best when it drops the loops and focuses on its songs. “Lion In a Coma,” one of the standout tracks on the LP, strongly exemplifies this point. The song features Avery Tare and Panda Bear weaving a vocal melody through a bouncy didgeridoo riff. Moments like this showcase the band’s expanding creativity and unparalleled personality. This is a band that can create something insanely wacky and demented yet turn it into a highly addictive pop song.
A big problem here is that Animal Collective appears to sacrifice variety for flow. Their past albums are all masterfully assembled in a way that sound like one complete listening experience. But even on those albums there is a wide variety in sound. Feels was capable of moving from the eight-minute droning ambiance of “Daffy Duck” to the simple beauty of “Loch Raven” to the blissful, energetic pop of “Turn Into Something” without any of them seeming to be the least bit out of place. It gives the band a sense of unpredictability, which has always worked to their advantage. But that variety is almost completely absent here. All the songs begin to blend into one another, making it difficult to differentiate one from the other. Because of this, really solid songs like “Guys Eyes” get swept away.
Despite its flaws, this is by no means an unsuccessful effort. Like Strawberry Jam–an album of music made to sound like jam looks–Animal Collective set out to achieve a goal here. They have described the album as the type of music that is meant to be played at an outdoor venue like the actual Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland. In that respect, this is a very successful work. The music has a breezy, free-flowing feeling. It’s the type of album that is best listened to outside, lazing on your front lawn during a hot summer evening. But out of this context, Merriweather Post Pavilion is more a scrumptious dessert than the three-course meal the band is capable of delivering.