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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Animal Collective offers listeners a mind trip

Published: January 16, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

diverse-city-1-16-09_page_3_image_0002The cover for Animal Collective’s newest album is an optical illusion, with a green and purple pattern that appears to be moving when you don’t focus anywhere, with no other identification. It seems emblematic of an album that bleeds weirdness into music at the edge of all genre boundaries.

Animal Collective’s work has spanned multiple genres and proven to be almost unclassifiable. Their latest, “Merriweather Post Pavilion” is by far their most pop-influenced work yet, combining their wide and varied influences and tendencies and distilling them into a more concise form. “Merriweather” is more accessible, strictly speaking, than previous Animal Collective works, but it doesn’t suffer for that at all. Instead, these elements of restraint serve to strengthen it; if previous albums proved the maxim that sometimes more is more, than this one, already garnering a substantial amount of praise, is that less is most definitely more.

The Beach Boys have become a token comparison and influence to reference when listening to Animal Collective, which is odd, especially when Animal Collective (obviously) doesn’t really sound anything at all like the Beach Boys. Nonetheless, the band, having refined their songcraft on this album, display an approach to song construction and orchestration that eerily echoes the Beach Boys, not to mention those choral harmonies that sound as though they were lifted directly from “Pet Sounds.”

The album starts with the slow open and dynamic build of “In the Flowers” and hits an early peak with “My Girls,” the second track. The elements of pop as approached from an electronic standpoint are evident as the album progresses. In fact, the underlying beats possess a great deal of pop and hip hop influence, only to be rendered somewhat obscured by vocals, samples, and electronics. There’s the addition of foreign influence as well, the recently trendy African tribal chants and drums emerging every once in a while from the hazy fog of music.

Animal Collective continues its woozy vocals, sounding both grand and somewhat obscured. “Merriweather” does bear some similarities to “Person Pitch,” member Noel Lennox’s 2007 solo album. However, the group has harnessed and shaped his psychedelic tendencies into a grander vision of pop through a funhouse mirror.

“My Girls” and the track after, “Almost Frightened,” both demonstrate the sunny, summery pop influences that seeped into the rest of the album. “My Girls” has Lennox renounce material pleasures for the simple things: “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things like a social status/I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls.”

“Summertime Clothes” is yet another standout, and it’s a rare band that forms a perfect, spacey, compelling song, pleading, “I want to walk around with you” in a deep, slow tenor. The beat pounds, keeping time behind the lyrics of summer sun and strolling past the smell of trash, until the song reaches dizzying heights and concludes with the refrain, “Just you, just you” repeated over and over.

The childlike vibes the band has become noted for emerge in “Daily Routine,” but childish doesn’t mean simple and isn’t being used in a pejorative sense; it’s just the best way to capture the sheen of fun and simplicity that overlays the complexity of each song. In fact, it’s Animal Collective’s best trick to be able to produce those kinds of tracks. What’s better, though, is that the band previously embodied those traits as a sort of freak-folk band, but on “Merriweather” they retain the same sense of childlike wonder, only in a more effortless, relaxed pose that has them sublimate much of their formerly obvious folk influence.

It’s premature, but many reviewers have gone so far as to suggest that “Merriweather Post Pavilion” is the top album of 2009. Time will tell, and the album, though close, is not perfect, and suffers from a lag in the middle.

Yet, by the time the album’s flawless closer, “Brothersport,” comes around, I can’t help but think that this has to be some of the best music that 2009 will produce. Animal Collective have certainly set a high bar, and if you’re interested in an accessible yet rewarding avant-garde electronic album, give Animal Collective’s latest a chance.

This is music that is truly new, in all senses of the word, and it’s so much the better for that.