Though you would never guess it by the groaning foam of their music, Animal Collective are huge fans of simplicity. Over the course of nine years, they’ve built a career on small, gravelly desires: chores, summertime, domestic life. These are not the things your typical experimental pop groups sing about, and Merriweather Post Pavilion is no exception to their rule. Animal Collective are a snowglobe unto themselves, ushering us through a world where flakes fall, where we can only see the details through ever-shifting fractals.
It’s a strange and enviable thing, this world that exists within Animal Collective. It is a world that is utterly oblivious to the neon blue hype that Merriweather Post Pavilion has already received. Actually, that’s too much of a simplification. It’s not that Animal Collective are unaware of the scene and its fiber-optic nausée; it’s that they’ve rejected it, insisting instead on the beauty of the real world of children and Saturday mornings and front lawns. In this way, Animal Collective are something of the first post-hipster band, a group of guys who gave all they had to Planet Indie Rock and aren’t afraid to admit that the whole thing is mostly soft plastic. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t times when they aren’t tempted to return to the beauty pageant. Throughout Merriweather Post Pavilion, both Panda Bear and Avey Tare groan at the distance between these two worlds.
Opener “In the Flowers” starts simply enough, with what sounds like a keyboard being repeatedly dunked underwater while Tare sings about trying to leave his body when the music suddenly explodes in rhythm, with something like four separate drum machines and the thump of live drummers threading in and out of one another, each rhythm taking the lead while the others melt and twirl together, trading off the lead so expertly that we don’t even sense the shifts. This is what Animal Collective have always done well, and are suddenly doing exceptionally well – they usher us into the kinds of places that we never thought we’d find ourselves, and half of the time we don’t even realize that we’ve gone through the wardrobe.
Much has been made about the influence of Panda’s solo Person Pitch on Merriweather, and while Tare’s “Summertime Clothes” does sound like a more organic version of “Take Pills,” Tare’s vocoder-laced vocals and Panda’s sunkist shouts fit together with more precision than either can muster alone. And while it has become de rigeur to say that Animal Collective are only extending the work that the Beach Boys began on Pet Sounds and Smiley Smile, Brian Wilson and his brothers never experienced with the minor-key tonal shades that shine a fierce sun upon nearly every track here.
Despite living on two different continents (Panda in Portugal and Tare in Manhattan’s Chinatown; noise processor Geologist lives in D.C.), Animal Collective feel more and more like a cohesive unit. At their root, these are all very, very simple songs. “Summertime Clothes” is about hanging out in the summer. The outstanding “My Girls” is about buying a house. These are meditations on calm, quiet, and altogether normal life. As if to clear up any doubt, there’s even a track called “Daily Routine.” But each thought and prayer is dressed up with the true importance and beauty that can be found only in small things. Geologist sends filtered water splashes through the mix. People chat. Doors creak. Things happen. They are small. They feel big.
And really, what the Collective are doing is growing up. They’ve spent their time in the big city, they’ve smelled its smokes, and they’re setting up their own homes. And what they’re doing with the dissonant foregrounds and the at-times overwhelming beauty of the foregrounds is describing that very process, the swelling and groaning and absolute sweetness that comes with settling down, the excitement at not taking things so seriously and the ache to return to the world where popularity counts. There’s caramel at the center of all of this.
It’s ironic, then, that Merriweather Post Pavilion has already proven to be Animal Collective’s most popular and well-received record to date. And, yes, many will miss what moves below this record. They will marvel instead at the incredible shifts in rhythm, the buttery vocals, the flashing lights, and they will move on to the next release. But there is a world better than all of this, a world where small prayers to be a good father can become one of the year’s best pop songs. Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground. words/ m. garner
Amazon: Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion