09 February 2009

The Weird Turn Pro: Animal Collective and Merriweather Post Pavilion

It can't really be their ninth record, can it? As Animal Collective plugged along throughout the 00s releasing their unique sonic artifacts, it came to seem as though they'd been around forever. You can be forgiven for not hearing or knowing more about this unclassifiable band. The records are not exactly your typical radio fodder: each seems like something unearthed in a future age, like the detritus that Wall-E socked away. They are all unique and each belongs to its own genre of off-kilter folk/electronic/world music. It's even been proposed that AC constitute a new folk music. There might be a point in there somewhere--electronic music, samples and dubbing are becoming less a separate genre of music than a kind of musical currency or method that is more common than the traditional acoustic/electric dynamic that has controlled popular music since, well, since there has been pop music. But when reviewers start tossing around terms like "freak folk", "experimental" and "psych-pop" you can bet there's no real consensus and that you're in uncharted waters, musically speaking.

Merriweather Post Pavilion has met with nearly universal acclaim and has already been dubbed the album of 2009 in some corners. Personally, I'm not much for Top Ten lists--there's far too much new music released each year for anyone to honestly get their ears around and it's unfair to claim the breadth of knowledge that would be required to make such a list, but I can see this disc making a lot of friends. For one thing it is irrepressibly upbeat--the band sounds like they're romping through an aural funhouse. The lack of guitar (if there's one here it is hard to recognize) has forced the band to go heavy on the synth and samples. In lesser hands this could create more problems than it solves but here the music washes over disjointed beats and the vocals ride in and out of the noise like a bodysurfer riding the tide. And if all that doesn't give you an idea of what the music sounds like, well, it is difficult to describe. I suppose you could call it an upbeat OK Computer, which is also a contradiction in terms. I've heard it described as dance music, which is really pretty funny: I can't imagine what dancing to this would look like--perhaps an epileptic fit?

There is a lot of hyperbole rolling around out there with regards to this record and I won't add to it. It is fun to listen to, even though I've always found electronic music fatiguing. It is peppered with memorable lyrics about love, family and growing into the ill-fitting clothes of adulthood. It is discouraging for a reviewer to fall back on the phrase "it rewards repeated listenings" but in this case it is true. If someone like Coldplay had made this record it would already be in half the cd players in the world and hailed as the new Sergeant Pepper. "Am I really all the things that are outside of me?" goes one Zen-like refrain that owes something to Alan Watts, or Jung. With the record industry suffering through a transformation in which the single track iTunes/Amazon download is the new standard, Merriweather Post Pavilion is a reminder that, when inspired, bands can still make records that hold together as more than the sum of their tracks.

Length 54:42
Label Domino
Producer Ben H. Allen, Animal Collective

Track listing

  1. "In the Flowers" – 5:24
  2. "My Girls" – 5:41
  3. "Also Frightened" – 5:14
  4. "Summertime Clothes" – 4:30
  5. "Daily Routine" – 5:46
  6. "Bluish" – 5:14
  7. "Guys Eyes" – 4:31
  8. "Taste" – 3:53
  9. "Lion in a Coma" – 4:12
  10. "No More Runnin" – 4:23
  11. "Brother Sport" – 5:59

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