Record #14: Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion (2009)

I had heard the hype about Animal Collective* a long time before caring about them. I had even bought the Grass EP at my local music store, but the tribal madness the group grooved to wasn’t my cup of tea.

And so on I went, coexisting with Animal Collective, until one day, a friend gave me a number of their CDs to listen to to reform my opinion. I took a liking to Strawberry Jam, but it was Merriweather Post Collective that really got my attention (obviously, since it’s their only release I own).

Apparently, it got everyone else’s attention as well–it reached 13 on the Billboard Chart (yes, that Billboard Chart), which considering the swirling, synth-heavy tracks contained therein, is an important moment in music history in its own right.

Reverb drenched synth noodlings aside, this record is worth the attention it garnered. Despite a nearly unnavigable keyboard haze and divorcing themselves from conventional instrumentation or structure, Animal Collective manages to create an incredibly accessible record thanks to the singable melodies, surf-rock harmonies, playful beats, and lyrical themes of childhood, adulthood, and parenthood. And all of this while singing in four over 6/8 accompaniment or pairing hollered nonsense lyrics over a jaw harp sample.

Not only is MPP noise pop at its finest; it is the very paragon of noise pop. It is incredibly, incredibly noisy—just about everything is soaked in reverb and atonal loops run through several of the songs– yet it is completely infected with pop sensibility.

In fact, many of the hooks are better than anything that’s come out of TRL in years. Even the most chaotic song, “Lion In A Coma,” despite having an unsingable refrain, is incredibly catchy. This balance pays off the best in the lowered tempo midsection, which has some of the best songs on the record (none of them singles, of course).

Overall, Merriweather Post Pavilion succeeds because of its balancing act between the chaos of keyboard fog and asymmetrical rhythms and the expertly crafted hooks and harmonies. The effect is much like the optical illusion on the record’s cover: calm and inviting, yet just slightly disorienting.

*the first I’d heard about Animal Collective was when staying at JPUSA in Chicago, I, with my huge beard, was walking through the McDonald’s drive-thru with a couple of friends who were clearly also countercultural, and these two drunk girls saw us and exclaimed, “Holy Animal Collective.”

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