CD Review: 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' by Animal Collective

By Chris Richards
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What happens when a band moves toward the mainstream only to find the mainstream no longer exists?

If that band is Animal Collective circa right now, it celebrates. The most jubilant album to come from this gleeful, genre-melting troupe arrives when pop music's master narrative (not to mention the industry itself) couldn't be more splintered. Ten years ago, a songbook this beautiful and bizarre might have sparked a cult following. Today, Animal Collective, a band with roots in the Baltimore suburbs, is poised to crack Billboard's charts. What a wonderful world!

The band's eighth album, "Merriweather Post Pavilion" (named after the mega-venue-cum-parking-nightmare in Columbia), feels like a psychedelic celebration of said wonderful world. And thought it might be Animal Collective's most exuberant outing, it's also the band's most coherent, nudging toward accessibility with irrepressible rhythms and honey-thick vocal harmonies.

Both take shape handsomely during the chorus of "My Girls," the group's finest hour. "I don't mean to seem like I care about material things," singers Noah Lennox and Dave Portner bleat, weaving harmonies from the Beatles-Beach Boys axis into a tapestry all their own. Over an anthemic march, synthesizer patterns twinkle and flutter, as if a flock of cherubs decided to ditch their harps for chirping cellphones. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more revelatory five minutes of music this year.

As for "Daily Routine," finding a trippier song about strolling the kiddies to the park would prove equally tricky. "Make sure my kid's got a jacket/Keys and coat and shoes and hat," Lennox bellows over the dreamlike beat. But before long, his checklist dissolves into a formless, Terry Riley-inspired fever dream, recasting his everyday tasks as something oddly magical.

The song is further proof that Animal Collective still has no problem ditching a good hook for a romp into the hyper-textural. This entire album is rife with electric sounds that feel slippery and damp. Sampled beats sound like galoshes stomping through puddles, and percussive sizzles evoke maracas filled with syrup-coated seeds. It's a dense, humid listen. At times, you can almost imagine beads of dew seeping from the pinholes of your ear buds.

Such hallucinogenic effects seem fully intentional. (Even the album's cover art is an optical illusion: a drawing of vines that appear to sway in a nonexistent breeze.) Lyrically, the band toggles between the surreal and mundane, but the hook of "Brother Sport" feels like a little bit of both.

"Open up your throat," Lennox commands over the song's carnivalesque techno-clatter. Is it an invocation to sing along or an invitation to imbibe? Either way, it's a joy to see these seasoned explorers reveling in the sonic Shangri-La they've discovered. Cheers.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "My Girls," "Daily Routine," "Brother Sport," "Summertime Clothes"

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