Then We Could Be Dancing!
When Animal Collective's most soulful sage, Panda Bear, set out to try and make techno-influenced 'dance' music on the way to what would, eventually, become his rapturous third solo album, 2007's Person Pitch —that magical, opaque translation of Gas-like muffled techno and Beach Boys-ish harmony— he changed everything forever.
Whilst there had always been a communal, alive, interpretive sense to Animal Collective's music, in their mysterious, freak-folk-ish early days, the four oddly-named gents would often translate that in-the-moment sense into a sprawling, unwieldy, noise-dappled jam whose creation of a communal space only extended to the band themselves; their insularity often distancing them from an audience.
Sure, there were moments on Sung Tongs (2004) and Feels (2005) of explosive, exclamatory, pop-like celebration, but, though their genre-defying music may've been many things, dance-music it was not. Post-Person Pitch, however, Animal Collective have turned into a joyous, rambunctious, infectious outfit fashioning ever-evolving walls of sampled sound into euphoric, dancefloor-friendly anthems; almighty music beholden to no known definition of genre.
And Merriweather Post Pavilion is the band's most outward approximation of shared happiness yet. On "Lion in a Coma," lead wailer Avey Tare (Dave Portner) dares putting it into words: "is there no reason it can't be/the way it was musically/my three best friends so casually/just letting go so joyfully?"
You're Used to Cooking Broccoli
As their music has radiated more directly outwards, Animal Collective's lyrical concerns have turned more inwards. The themes that first surfaced on Feels —and then blossomed on their overjoyed, overdriven last longplayer, 2007's Strawberry Jam— come to full fruition, here; this band of now-30-year-old men reveling in the joys of love, marriage, and domesticity. Offering a romantic antidote to those populous, noxious depictions of the blessed union as some sort of yoking burden, Portner and co-AC-creator Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) are radiantly-happy in their roles as married men.
Amidst the oscillating, fragmentary jostle of "Daily Routine" —whose title isn't used in the pejorative sense— Lennox sings lovingly of morning ritual. Readying himself to take his daughter for a walk through the Barrio Alto to his local playground, Lennox sounds overjoyed with his role as domestic Lisboeta: "make sure my kid's got a jacket/keys and coat and shoes and hat/strap a stroller to my back/bouncing along every crack."
On the boisterous, bustling, synth-blipping hymn "My Girls," Lennox croons with a contented humility; safe in the realization that all he needs is a roof over his head, wife and daughter by his side. Swearing on his "father's grave," and decrying "fancy," "material things," Lennox lets his feelings show in almost naïve simplicity: "all I want is a proper house!"
A Five Star Finale
On the LP's closing cut —a yelping, percussion rattling, call-and-response dance-jam called "Brother Sport"— Panda continues to keep things in the family. As its endlessly-tossed over refrain switches from "sports brother" to "support your brother," he and Portner exhort Lennox's brother, Matt, to "open up [his] throat," a plea for him to speak out his feelings more in the wake of their father's death.
Reading "Brother Sport"'s words for meaning may reveal that tenderness, but, taken just as a song, it's far and away Animal Collective's most in-the-club jam: massive, shuddering sub-bass stabs, batucada shakers, muffled piano vamps, and oscillating electronic blips conveying a heightened state of auditory hysteria. As sirens wail and the song locks into a groove of sustained, demented repetition, it ends the album on a glorious note, and impossibly 'up' ending that begs you to play the whole damn disc all over again.
As whole, it's an incredibly satisfying listen: an album that somehow seems more impressive with each subsequent spin; its exuberance never growing strident or tired, never wearing down or old. If we add Merriweather Post Pavilion to an Animal Collective discography that includes the ad-hoc, ragged sunshine of Sung Tongs, and the ferocious, keening genius of Strawberry Jam, it's impossible to deny that they've now made three classic albums in the space of five years.
Once dismissed as backwoods weirdos, Animal Collective have gone and grown into something far more frightening: one of the most important, distinctive voices in modern American music.
Record Label: Domino
Release Date: 6 January 2009