ANIMAL COLLECTIVE > Merriweather Post Pavillion

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On the heels of Strawberry Jam last year, Animal Collective underwent a change from overlooked techno-rati darlings of the critical elite to a name practically synonymous with fringe experimentalism.

Label: DOMINO
[Rating: 4.5 stars]

On the heels of Strawberry Jam last year, Animal Collective underwent a change from overlooked techno-rati darlings of the critical elite to a name practically synonymous with fringe experimentalism. Soon enough, every artsy psych-rock outfit toting a voice modulator was compared to the New York foursome, thrusting upon them the mantle of pack leader for the digital underground. To that end, it would seem their follow-up, Merriweather Post Pavillion, would be a natural shoe-in for ‘09 best-of lists; either that, or suffer a severe backlash meant to put these showroom dummies back in the club where they belong. Even for a band steeped in surrealism, it’s no surprise that a track such as “Taste,” a playful slight to their recent critical status, would bubble to the surface. Less a protest of the fickle nature of fandom, more than likely, than showing their reservations to snobbery done in their name, the song lamentably asks, “Am I really all the things that are outside of me?”

More than a preemptive retaliation to Merriweather‘s impending scrutiny, though, their seventh LP once again proves that Animal Collective are as musically divergent as they are prolific. Far from the visceral shrieks that made Strawberry Jam‘s “For Reverend Green” one of 2007’s finest tracks, Merriweather dabbles in more sweet-natured pop. To put it another way, instead of Dave Portner at the helm, the tribal beauty of Noah Lennox-the mastermind behind Panda Bear-seems have taken a stronger toll on its 11 tracks. Not that Animal Collective are anything other than what the second half of their moniker suggests, but this is one band whose individual members each play very distinct but collaborative roles. To wit, “My Girls” blends their signature carnie psychedelia with a prominent dance beat, while “Summertime Clothes” layers their sugary pop hooks with grainy synthesizers and “Lion in a Coma” turns a didgeridoo warble into a fire-dance mantra. Whatever reservations Animal Collective may have had regarding their newfound social stance didn’t stop them from turning in what will likely be one of the year’s best.

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