The other night I was listening to Smiley Smile in the comforts of my own bed. I dosed off to the album’s perfect but deranged vocal harmonies and awoke to find myself in the dark on an inflatable mattress floating atop some anonymous ocean. Off in the distance on the closest landmass visible, I could see lit torches and bodies shuffling, the faint sounds of primitive drumming and tropical melodica could be heard off in the distance. I leapt up in fear and fell into the water. Headphones still intact, I became submerged in the ocean’s depths. Under the water, the sounds from that strange island meshed together with the vocal harmonies of Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and co. into one mass of sub aquatic noise. Then what appeared to be various drum machines, synthesizers, and effects pedals began to splash into the water and float around me. Instantaneously, the sun rose above, casting a blinding light that shone through. What followed was like nothing I’d ever heard before. The clatter was incomprehensible. It was so pleasingly confusing that I almost didn’t want to swim up above the surface to breath, though I knew if I didn’t I would soon meet my end. Eventually the noise died down and I broke through the plane of the water’s surface, gasping for air. I had no idea what I had just experienced, but immediately I longed to swim back under and see if I could try to make some sense out of it.
Ok, so maybe none of the aforementioned events ever actually happened, however a listen through Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion comes close enough. Simply put, Baltimore crew’s latest effort is one hell of a trip. Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox, David “Avey Tare” Portner, and Brain “Geologist” Weitz (I guess Deakin is on vacation) have done something special with their latest effort, and it would be hard and downright wrong to say otherwise. Of course, the boys that make up Animal Collective have always been an interestingly unique and perplexing force, from their lo-fi psych folk experimentations on Spirit They’re Gone Spirit They’ve Vanished to 2007’s double whammy of Panda Bear’s sample based Person Pitch and the Collective’s electro infused Strawberry Jam. Always ambitious and inventive, the group has made vast changes in style and sound (remember acoustic guitars?) throughout their near nine year existence, never repeating themselves and continually refusing to care what anybody thinks (see last year’s performance on Conan). Still, no matter how amazing or confusing any of the group’s back catalog may be, it will henceforth be Merriweather Post Pavilion that will stand as their career defining effort, at least until its follow-up is released. Simply put, it is the culmination of everything that came before it.
Where Sung Tongs and Feels wandered and drifted, Merriweather is concise and determined, and where Strawberry Jam and Person Pitch introduced the electronic foundation into the mix, Merriweather takes it to another level, nearly convincing us that everything that preceded it was just a warm-up lap. Likewise, elements from each and every one of the group’s previous albums are here, however it is the synthesis of all these ingredients that makes it all so exhilarating. Merriweather definitely further extends the more electronic direction that the collective took with Strawberry Jam—noisy electronic loops and samples, rolling climactic drum beats, overpowering synthesizers, numerous effects pedals, etc.—yet much has changed in just under two years. First and foremost, gone are the previously ever-present yelps and screams from Avey Tare, once a cornerstone of the Animal Collective sound. Some will undoubtedly miss those raspy yells, but the end result of the change is magnificent enough to make them just as easily forget that they were ever there in the first place. Instead, Panda Bear and Avey work together, creating near perfection by interweaving their similar yet respectively distinct vocalizations. With this move alone, it is clear that the boys have chosen lushness, at least in the vocal department. Additionally, the vocals now take a half-step down from the foreground, and instead echo around, contributing to the atmospheric wall of sound created by numerous samples and virtually inexplicable ornate “instrumentation.” This, however, does not compromise the gorgeously catchy melodies or beautiful harmonies that the fellas have always brought to the table. Stunning, hummable melodies harmonize with one another and mesh into layer upon layer of vast electronic blips and miscellaneous sounds. The songcraft alone is awe-inspiring enough to make many amateur songwriters simply give up altogether.
I would be hard pressed to find a better album opener in 2009 than “In The Flowers,” a track that begins with haunting looped grunts but slowly unveils itself as a colorful pop track, equipped with unforgettable vocal melodies and a hair raising, eye widening drum pounding climax. From its first few seconds, the album immediately launches into ultra-sunny trip through organic electro infused psychedelic soundscapes, a journey that remains consistent and cohesive throughout its 54 brilliant minutes. It is an astonishing collection of charming and clever songs that has to be heard to believe.
If Hendrix wore an acid soaked headband, then AC’s Lennox, Portner, and Weitz wear full body suits. Yes, it is safe to say the lads have reached psychedelic perfection, and not by following the rules. The boys of Animal Collective have mapped out some previously uncharted seas, producing a style of music that could belong to no one else; a distinctive, flawless fusion of the semi- automated and the wholly organic. Psychedelic music has never sounded like this before, and it is safe to say that it will never be the same. If this is your first experience with Animal Collective, don’t be afraid to hop off of the mattress and take the dive in, just know that you may never want to resurface.
Also available at Consequenceofsound.net