Album Review: Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

medium_animal-collectiveWhat is this?

I remember the days when Animal Collective would whirl me along in their otherworldly tornado when I put my headphones on. Remember “Leaf House”? Those two-and-a-half minutes of perfection? I do.

And “The Purple Bottle”? The formless wonder-pop of Feels? Remember when Avey Tare and Panda Bear would bedazzle you with lyrics that seemed like a task to decipher? I remember.

If Merriweather Post Pavilion is any indication of the Baltimore natives’ future aspirations, those days of unconventional song structure and general madness are long gone. On Merriweather, Animal Collective offer us their most predictable album yet; but rather than disappointing, they place a very necessary lid on the bottle of joy that they’ve been pouring out consistently since they started making music way back in high school.

And I like lids. Lids are a good idea, but they’re only little pieces of manipulated plastic made to contain what you’re storing. While lids may be fun, their function still exists.

i wondered: could Animal Collective continue the experimental process forever without finding their niche? Would it be better if they denied their own wishes to appease the public? If that was true, at some point the collective would certainly run out of ideas and leave us with a few half-assed albums, so it’s probably for the best that they wrote a few decent songs and recorded Merriweather in accordance with what they want. They had to cap it off somewhere.

Now, this is one hell of a lid. Let me tell you that much. I mean, it’s Animal Collective! I can’t remember a time when I’ve been disappointed with a release by my animal friends. And this record really is Animal Collective. Listening through, I can’t help but think: “They would make this.” The instrumentals are as sonic and delicious as ever, and the vocals are as…Animal Collective-y as you could ever want. “My Girls” is a prime example, opening with spacey keyboard trios and progressing almost infinitely with Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s tag-team vocals. But it’s exactly where they eclipse with brilliance that Animal Collective’s biggest problem becomes all too noticeable: this lid doesn’t have very much to say over its 55-minute length.

When I said ‘almost infinitely’, I meant it. There exists roughly five and three-quarters minutes of “My Girls” on Merriweather, and its verses can be counted on one hand. Yet, somehow they manage to sing for the song’s entirety. By the fifth time, “Is it much to admit I need a solid soul and the blood I bleed?” comes up, it’s hard to take any of the words Animal Collective has for us seriously. It isn’t even as if these heavily repeated lyrics are up-to-par. “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things like a social status.” They thought that important enough to repeat six times?

Remember the days when looking up Animal Collective lyrics meant being constantly blown away with what you were reading? Merriweather Post Pavilion shows us an Animal Collective that has gained a taste for the less poetic. On “Guys Eyes,” Panda Bear expresses the lyrical profundity of “I really want to show to my girl that I want her,” with overwhelmingly inventive instrumentals in the background. The contrast is almost painful.

But there are still some really wonderful songs thrown into Merriweather.  “Brother Sport” is easily the most fun song on the record. It also happens to be the most repetitious, but in this case the island-beat ecstasy follows through effectively enough for an exceptional listening experience.  “In the Flowers” evolves continually until it’s everything you ever wanted from an Animal Collective song. Avey Tare’s breathy vocals weakly join hands with Panda Bear’s to glide eloquently over a battlefield of percussion. “To hold you in time,” they sing, it could not be a more perfect introduction to the album.

Don’t get me wrong: this record is nowhere near terrible.  But this is not Animal Collective’s masterpiece. Not even close.  So, what’s the verdict on this lid? Is it one of those Pepsi-Cola lids with (nothing against the brand) the lame activation code and the unpleasant plastic, or is it a Snapple lid, with one of their maybe-true-but-always-entertaining statements? It seems to me that Merriweather is best viewed as an extra in Animal Collective’s catalogue, something for the Collective enthusiast in need of more. While it works out well that this extra gives the listener ample closure to what may become known as the most experimental period in Animal Collective’s history, I wouldn’t consider this record to be anything of importance in their discography. I mean, come on; it’s only a lid.

Label: Domino Records

Release Date: Jan 13, 2009

Track Listing:

  1. In the Flowers
  2. My Girls
  3. Also Frightened
  4. Summertime Clothes
  5. Daily Routine
  6. Bluish
  7. Guys Eyes
  8. Taste
  9. Lion in a Coma
  10. No More Runnin
  11. Brother Sport

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21 Responses to “Album Review: Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)”

  1. Caleb says:

    couldnt disagree more.

    i think it’s their breakout record– for better or worse (ie, could mean too much mainstream attention, i know how that rubs people the wrong way..)

    granted, my perspective as a fan is of one that in the past just COULDN’T QUITE get into it– there was always something not gelling for me. I liked Feels a lot, but the majority of the rest of their catalog was always a bit too “running through the fields on acid w/ tribal paint and shouting” for me.

    SO. Yes, I suppose they have put a lid on their style a bit for this album, but I would venture to say that it’s only helped to contain all of the crazy bullshit that made me click “next track” over and over on their older stuff. Again, just a personal opinion. I think they’re geniuses.

    I think that they’ve really stream-lined their sound for this record, in the best way possible, and for me I think I will look back on it smiling and reminiscing of dancing to “Brother Sport” & “My Girls” with my best friends.

  2. Caleb says:

    “I wouldn’t consider this record to be anything of importance in their discography.”

    To summarize my feelings:

    I think this will be by far *their most important* album to date. Who knows what masterpieces lie ahead, but this is at the very very tip top for me. Plus they recorded it in my hometown and sampled one of my friends screaming. Ha.

  3. Nolan Conaway says:

    Well we can both agree that they’re all brilliant either way.

  4. Greg Szeto says:

    you know, i’ve thought a bit about this album and i’m siding with nolan. sure the music has this great, amazing shimmering quality to it. but it just doesn’t grab me on a greater level like true masterpieces do; it isn’t an album i find difficult to turn off. it’s enjoyable, but i struggle to not forget the sounds and songs on the album after they’ve stopped playing.

  5. brian says:

    i’m with nolan and greg on this. as a long-time huge fan, and one that loves the experimentation, creativity and thoughtfulness of sung tongs, here comes the indian, and feels, i think this album falls short of that. i still really like the album (the standout tracks are really beautiful, and they’ve creeped even further into their more pschedelic version of the beach boys, which is always fine with me if done well), but as a whole, i wouldn’t say it’s their most important work to date. maybe important in the timeline of their career and getting some more fans, but in terms of the importance on a pure songwriting and creative basis, i think it falls short of some of their previous albums. for a 50+ minute album, i think feels is a much more complete and brilliant piece of work.

    all that being said, i’ve still been listening to it non-stop since i’ve heard it. maybe i’ll grow to love the 5 songs that fall short thus far.

    also, i’m glad you mentioned the lyrics, nolan. some of these are almost laugable. i love “lion in a coma,” but the line “sometimes i don’t agree on my thoughts of being free” and “please don’t leave me, things don’t feel good” are pretty lame.

  6. I’ve never heard these guys, though I’ve been meaning to. I take it that this isn’t the album to begin with?

  7. Lid says:

    Lid lid lid.

  8. Jon says:

    No, this is definitely the album to start with. What he’s calling a lid is just a step in a more accessable, catchier, more danceable direction, it’s every bit as creative, intricate, and awesome as their earlier albums. But you really, you should get this, strawberry jam, AND feels to start with.

  9. brian says:

    i recommend starting at feels. strawberry jam isn’t a bad one to start with either. sung tongs is sort of electronic/acoustic so that wouldn’t be bad either. that was the first one i heard, and i loved it.

    to say this is just as creative as their earlier output is a bit of a stretch for me. whereas previous albums (every album until this one) always had a sound that could only be identified as animal collective, i think there are a few songs on this album that are fairly generic (“bluish” and “guy’s eyes” especially), so i have hard time thinking it’s as creative as their previous work. in fact, “guy’s eyes” almost sounds like something you’d hear from that band annuals first record.

  10. Stijn says:

    I’ve only just discovered Animal Collective, and this by MPP. Must say that I really don’t dislike it.. ‘Lion in a coma’, ‘Brother Sport’, ‘Summertime Clothes’ and ‘Bluish’ Are all cool songs that keep sticking in my mind.. Lyrics are a bit lame indeed, I’m not really digging them, seems like it’s all just incoherent babbeling..
    I’ll check out their previous albums, and let you know whom I agree with.


  11. Alex Mudge says:

    I honestly haven’t heard this album past the single on the radio. Something about my anti-herd mentality prevents me from descending on things along with the rest of the masses.

    Though, I played around with a sample of the single–the bass drop, and Noah exclaiming, “Whoooo!” It lines up well with a break from a Dizzee Rascal track, and a sample of Birdman’s asinine bird call. Expect something along the same lines from Lady Conversation.

  12. sarah says:

    i have to say that i completely agree with you (caleb) and think that MPP is one of those records we are going to look back on in 20 years and talk about how monumental and innovative it was — easily one of the most important albums of this decade.
    “If Merriweather Post Pavilion is any indication of the Baltimore natives’ future aspirations, those days of unconventional song structure and general madness are long gone.”
    this statement makes me think that maybe the naysayers haven’t actually listened to the record with headphones & without distraction. sure it’s pop-y and has a few love songs, but i think it’s ridiculous to expect such an amazing band to stay the same for ten years. what’s the fun in that? i like plenty of noisy, drone-y, experimental stuff, and i can’t listen to just one thing all of the time. and lyrically — again, i have to say that what might sound ‘simple’ to some sounds mature and acutely self-aware to others.

    isn’t avoiding the “herd” or something that is potentially appealing to the masses just another form of being stuck??

  13. phil says:

    mpp is maturation realized in the way only ac could do. call it a “lid” or call the lyrics “lame”, but i beg of you to continue with repeated listens of this work of art. it isn’t “feels”, “sung tongs”, or even “here comes the indian”, as it well should not be. it is a distinct statement at a specific moment in time and should be listened to and respected as such.

    whatever. i believe all this clatter to be exactly what the ac disdain on this record. at the end of the day, the ac are the muthafuckin existential truth.

  14. Caleb says:

    Haha, this thread is fucking great. My fave thus far.

    Sarah: I hear you. I know that for ME, it has already captured a moment in my life.

    You also make a pretty good point about bands not shifting enough throughout time. There’s two musicians doing that right now that really bother me:

    1- Beck: Sure, he’s always zany, poppy, amazing, but it’s just all beginning to sound the same-ish. The last 3 albums are all so fucking similar, I’m beginning to lose respect.

    There IS such a thing as getting stale within your eclecticism. Ie, Beck’s music is always VERY eclectic, but I mean.. I just know that specific sound so well at this point. Change it up, man!

    2 – Of Montreal .. C’mon, Kevin. I’m pretty certain you’re a genius, and your sound is VERY original, but also is starting to get stale for me, for many of the same reasons.


    MPP has, if nothing, made me want to thoroughly explore their back catalog. Revisit some of the ones that didn’t grab me first time around.

  15. Jimmy says:

    “Remember the days when looking up Animal Collective lyrics meant being constantly blown away with what you were reading?”

    I will never be able to understand how one can listen to any amount of Animal Collective and somehow fall under the impression that the lyrics are in any way important. They’ve never been anything more than completely subservient to the mood, melody and overall sound of the songs. Listen to the album again in that context – My Girls makes much more sense when you realize that they’re simply repeating themselves because the damn thing sounds so good.

    I don’t think the album is a masterpiece either, but I couldn’t disagree more with most of your reasons as to why. Hating repetition? Trying to parse lyrics? I mean, how were you even able to make it this far in their discography?

  16. JonJim says:

    Animal Collective are the epitome of artistic integrity, and even they are not safe from backlash!

    This review is like someone saying Loaded isn’t important to the Velvet Underground’s discography. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but egg on your face!

  17. Greg Szeto says:

    just curious, how is this backlash? i see no hatred in this review; no hyperbole given without grounding. there were a few plain and simple reasons stated why the album is good not great in the eyes of multiple people.

    end of story.

    music is largely a personal journey rooted in opinion and reflective of a number of very individual variables. thus, even if something turns out to be a canonical masterpiece, it is not universally loved.

  18. Dude says:

    Animal Collective are truly the most innovative act of the last decade, and this album is no exception. There’s nothing wrong with an artist exploring more accessible forms. Animal Collective’s long catalog of experimental music will always be there, and they deserve the mass recognition MPP is bringing them. No album of their’s has ever been quite the same as the last and while they have spawned imitators no one else will ever sound like them. They aren’t selling out – just branching out.

  19. brian says:

    I don’t think anyone was calling them a sell-out, actually.

  20. Nolan says:

    You know, in the original draft for this review i spoke of a considerable backlash to be had whenever you spoke ill of Animal Collective.


  21. cjm says:

    I agree. There’s a lot of bands I’ll listen to and hope to like enough to buy their work or keep in the ipod or share with friends. So for many like me (who bought it) this release could be akin to Flaming Lips’ “Soft Bulletin”, or Brian Wilson’s “Pet Sounds” – a new benchmark for new fans. I hope and trust there is more to come in the years to follow.

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