Album Review: Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Animal Collective are not for the faint of heart. This is especially true regarding the experimental pop groups’ two most recent albums, in which they heavily indulged in some of their most left-field whims. 2016’s Painting With took their multi-layered vocal style to disorientingly elaborate heights, whilst 2018’s Tangerine Reef mellowed in slow and arguably somewhat stiff ambience. Both of these records were received with predictable ambivalence, despite personally holding some fondness for elements of them. However, there’s no doubting that Animal Collective are at their best when they restrain themselves. Or at least, when they’re able to focus their experimental tendencies into crafting great pieces of music. Ten years ago this month, Animal Collective released an album that perfected that approach. An album that followed in the footsteps of other experimental pop legends like the Beatles and (especially) the Beach Boys to produce something as beautiful as it is innovative. That album was Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Before I jump into Merriweather Post Pavilion I’d like to talk briefly about Pet Sounds. The Beach Boys’ 1966 magnum opus is a fascinating album that (in a similar fashion to Radiohead’s OK Computer) is caught in this tension between its music and its lyrics. Huge, lush arrangements of strings and horns and theremins cascade around lyrics of striking intimacy, such as opening track Wouldn’t It Be Nice’s romantic teenage daydreams or That’s Not Me realising “I could try to be big in the eyes of the world / What matters to me is what I could be to just one girl”. The album’s cover perhaps best summarises this approach, with the image of the band feeding goats at San Diego Zoo holding no clues as to the music inside. This contrast is what beautifully grounds Pet Sounds, allowing it to transcend merely intriguing experimentation to become a timeless, unforgettable classic. It’s also a contrast that’s consistently present in Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Merriweather Post Pavilion is the Animal Collective album that most closely resembles the ethos of the Beach Boys’ best work…In other words, it’s this generation’s Pet Sounds.Nathan Brooks
Animal Collective regularly get compared to the Beach Boys and it doesn’t take close listening to see why. There are certainly a number of superficial similarities, most notably the intricately layered vocals that give their melodies such sophistication. However, Merriweather Post Pavilion is the Animal Collective album that most closely resembles the ethos of the Beach Boys’ best work. Sonically, Merriweather Post Pavilion is an astonishingly radical album, a trailblazing reconfiguration of synth-pop music into something wild and avant-garde. Lyrically, however, Merriweather Post Pavilion is charmingly domestic, a thoroughly down-to-earth exploration of familial love slipped into one of the grandest sounding albums of the 2000s. In other words, it’s this generation’s Pet Sounds.
Lead single My Girls is where this comparison is most apparent. Effectively continuing the themes of That’s Not Me, Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) assures the listener “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things” because all he wants “are four walls and adobe slats for my girls”. Booming percussion and shimmering synths give My Girls a deceptive sense of scale that surpasses Lennox’s humble desires for family stability. Similarly, Also Frightened expresses Lennox’s uncertainty as a new parent trying to protect his child, with its sinisterly pulsating bass line bringing his fears to life in the form of nightmarish psychedelia. His passionate vocal delivery of the main hook, “Are you also frightened?” further heightens this impression, as Lennox tries to find solace in sharing these anxieties with his wife.
Summertime Clothes opens with a brief sample of a frolicking family, then breaks into a pounding rhythm vigorously propelling distorted synthesisers. Loose and fluid vocals flow over the top, anchored around the blissfully simple hook, “I want to walk around with you”. In contrast, Daily Routine begins as a more erratically structured track, with fitful synths and eccentric vocals, before relaxing into a luxurious, droning outro delicately imbued with shoegaze ecstasy. Lennox’s account of a typical morning may initially seem matter-of-fact, but once again it subtly and endearingly reflects the love he feels for his family. Bluish then takes the album to its most intimate level, indulging in the mesmerising sensation of admiring a loved one. It’s also a prime example of the utterly unique way Animal Collective use synthesisers, creating an electronic soundscape that somehow feels organic, sincere and alive. Brother Sport concludes the album at its biggest, with all the synths, samples and percussion swelling into an anthemic ode to sibling companionship.
Thanks to the way its daringly unconventional sound is held together by themes that – whilst being deeply personal to the band members – hold a universal emotional authenticity, Merriweather Post Pavilion remains endlessly appealing a decade after its release.Nathan Brooks
Merriweather Post Pavilion is not without its more abstract moments, but even these never entirely lose sight of reality. In the Flowers is the album’s spellbinding opening track, an initially gentle song that explodes into glorious, hallucinatory life during the chorus. The dreamlike lyrics are naturally open to numerous interpretations, but at their core is this sense of missing a loved one and longing for their comfort. Guys Eyes features the album’s most intense vocal arrangements, as Lennox’s contradictory feelings of love and lust are relentlessly piled on top of each other to intoxicating effect. Taste then gets incredibly existential, asking, “Am I really all the things that are outside of me?” in its melodically sublime search for identity. Lion in a Coma delves even deeper into this theme by cranking up the surreal imagery and injecting the melodies and music with euphorically exotic energy. No More Runnin then drastically subdues the pace, hypnotically and sensitively searching for respite from the incessant speed of life.
There is certainly a case to be made for much of Animal Collective’s discography, but for me, Merriweather Post Pavilion will always be their crowning achievement. So many of my favourite albums, from the aforementioned Pet Sounds to Radiohead’s phenomenal In Rainbows, are those that achieve the exquisite balance between experimentation and accessibility. This is one of those albums. Thanks to the way its daringly unconventional sound is held together by themes that – whilst being deeply personal to the band members – hold a universal emotional authenticity, Merriweather Post Pavilion remains endlessly appealing a decade after its release.
The Breakdown | Album Review: Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
A beautifully intimate portrait of family life hidden behind euphoric, intricate walls of sound, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion is a landmark experimental pop masterpiece.