So, if you have read many of my past album reviews on this site, you will notice an obsession that I have with the notion of influence and how artists distinguish themselves from the sounds from which they take inspiration. No matter how much I enjoy a new album, I tend to have a bit of a hard time getting fully behind artists that make an obvious homage to a specific musical movement that came before. There is a fine line between inspiration and blatant copying, and it sometimes feels like I’m apologizing for a band sounding too much like their influences. It’s an internal argument that I may never quite get past, but I have been able to suppress it enough to remain objective on a very basic level, meaning if it sounds good and the artist is bringing a new spin to the material, I’ll give him/her the benefit of the doubt. Just when I feel I’m getting hopelessly bogged down in my own weird, sick thing, however, a group puts out an album that is wholly unique and original, granting me a much needed reprieve from sorting through who’s ripping off whom.
Such is the case with Animal Collective’s latest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion. Released way back in January of this year, this is one of the albums that I have been sitting on as I wait to really digest all the minute details. Granted, six months is a long time to wait for an album review, but I had other shit goin’ on. Sue me. As anyone who is familiar with Animal Collective’s earlier work, this is a group that can be notoriously difficult to “get”. They are known for their dense soundscapes, loose song structures, thumping afro-beats, clicks, beeps, whoops, and hollers. Not much has changed for Merriweather Post Pavilion, but many of their stranger tendencies have been reined in in a great way, making this the closest to mainstream pop that Animal Collective has come thus far. However, with a few exceptions, it’s difficult to characterize this as pop music. Even the most easily digestible songs on the record contain tweaked song structures, endlessly repetitive digital noises, and multi-layered vocalizations. “My Girls” has several moments that resemble a formal verse/chorus/bridge structure, but it also recalls a kind of primal chant interwoven with tribal drums, beginning with a slow, zen-like drone before bursting into a joyous noise. “Summertime Clothes” contains Animal Collective’s most catchy chorus, but it’s also surrounded by looped rave noises and drums. Other songs manage to work along the same lines, such as “Also Frightened”, the beautiful love song “Bluish”, West African-influenced album closer “Brother Sport”, and… okay, every song has something unique and different going for it.
One of the coolest tricks on this record, however, comes in the very first song. “In The Flowers” begins and ends with much of the same droning, repetitive bass, digital clicks, piano, and various other looped noise. Mid-song, however, after an intense blast of cacophonous loops, Avey Tare breaks in with a decidedly pop lyric (“Then we could be dancing, no more missing you while I’m gone”) that actually creates melody out of the noise, as if each sound comes together with the singer to create brief beauty out of aural chaos. It reminds me of the familiar jazz instructional cliché: “You have to listen to the notes he’s not playing!” Granted, this could just all be in my head, but I hear it every time I play the song, and it makes me smile every time.
Merriweather Post Pavilion has received astonishingly good marks from critics everywhere, but many die hard Animal Collective fans will not view this as their most daring and experimental work. This may be correct, but as their first major dip into the pop music world, Animal Collective have used this record to change the game, creating an all digital album full of electronic noise that yet does not sound like modern techno, rock, pop, or anything else out there, for that matter. Animal Collective has created an original and solid statement of the band’s vision of where popular music is headed, and I am confident that, in the future, this record will be regarded as far ahead of its time.
Animal Collective – “My Girls”