The cult of celebrity surrounding indie spazz-poppers Animal Collective’s new album is astounding: hype and nerdy pining are to be expected, but this is something else entirely. Blogs haven’t been so much abuzz as ablaze, and fans have gone as far as hacking the band’s email account in hopes of attaining an advance copy of the album. As Ateaseweb’s “Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion, HYPE!” discussion thread hit its 1000th (!?!?) page, one can’t help but wonder: is this the moment when indie-rock’s prized band of weirdo rockers finally emerges from the underground?
To call Merriweather Post Pavilion a game-changer is a bit disingenuous: it feels more like a long-imminent arrival. While the album does court the outer edges, it also flirts with the avant-pop appeal of more mainstream artists like TV on the Radio, Modest Mouse, Beck, Radiohead, and Bjork — a clear indication that the band is interested in more holding court with more popular peers.
Not that you’d know it from the outset. Wallowing in a folk-drenched fog, opener “In the Flowers” evokes the spirit of lilting ’70s British acts while dredging up the pseudo-psych revelries of contemporaries like the Shins. Less indicative of the album and more a processional introduction, the song ducks and weaves, rising smoothly through its first two minutes before swelling at the midpoint with the words, “If I could just leave my body for the night.” From there, shafts of bright light torrent around the words, lending way to an ecstatic, falsetto croon.
Using the tropes of the band’s last record, Strawberry Jam, to far more accessible ends, “My Girls” sets a sampled synth into endless return. While past attempts at this sort of single-tone song base were often frenzied and abrasive, here the sounds are counter-balanced by an anthemic, Beach Boys-style harmony. With this, the band’s recent dismissals of Brian Wilson’s influence begin to fall flat: the song’s interlaced vocal melodies are taken straight from the source.
Perhaps more surprising than Merriweather Post Pavilion‘s streamlined vocals (which are as evocative of Panda’s Bear’s Person Pitch as anything by the full band), “My Girls” introduces an entirely new element: the gangly, disjointed groove. Only a few seconds in, a funked-up rhythm guitar kicks alongside thumping drums and hand-claps. From there, the band dips into a (very) distant (and unexpectedly danceable) disco groove. Thus it is that Animal Collective gives us its first bona-fide, clap-along cut.
“Daily Routine” courts a similar kind of unrepentant pop appeal, slowing things down with a full-bodied, head-bopping beat. For its part, “Also Frightened” is more tentative, operating in the sting-laced environs of classic folk and orchestral indie.
“Summertime Clothes,” meanwhile, coalesces the elements of more recent AC records: freak-out vocals flow over ensemble sing-alongs — “I wAAAnt to wAAAlk AAAround with you” — as a seemingly endless procession of watery, subterranean textures emerge. This is the sort of stuff Elephant Sixers like Olivia Tremor Control were after — freak-out pop with a thousand moving parts. “Blusih,” “No More Running,” and “Guys Eyes” are similarly oceanic — their oscillating tones and percussive oddities wrapped warmly around echo-y vocals.
Showing the band’s inimitable range, Tropicália-meets-Flaming Lips-style psych outs like “Lion in A Coma” and album-ender “Brothersport” mash staccato vocals with South American and African rhythm. The results are buoyant paeans to everyone from Os Mutantes and Talking Heads to Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
In this way, the band for the first time transcends its influences. Sure, Animal Collective has always courted the grandeur of “acceptable” avant-garde rock acts like Bjork and Radiohead, but Merriweather Post Pavilion marks the moment when the long-brewing act emerges amongst such peers as its own, unique entity.
Merriweather Post Pavilion is due out January 20 in the U.S. and January 12 in the UK from Domino.