The Jury may still be out on whether Merriweather Post Pavilion is the best album of 2009, but the band has best album art of the year, or the past few years for that matter, locked up in some people's eyes, including mine.
As Domino Records gets ready to release the vinyl version of Animal Collective's intense and melodic new album, many have already touted it as 2009's best album a mere 6 days into the year. The album shows a solid progression with the band's direction, evolving from loud freak-out songs with plenty of nonsense lyrics ("Grass," "Who Could Win A Rabbit?") towards more mature, indie-centric polish. The album opens smoothly with the menacing "In The Flowers" cascading into the amazingly enjoyable "My Girls," a song so good you could spin it at the club. The rest of the tracks round out an album that everyone's favorite elitist critic breeding-ground Pitchfork gave an earth-shattering review score of 9.6.
Those longtime fans of Animal Collective who were drawn to the band's early, freaky and downright kooky days may take issue with the pop-minded direction the band has chosen. Those longtime fans of really awesome music, however, will be delighted to know that Animal Collective have made themselves more accessible to a wider audience, thanks in part to their new pop-minded sound. The trademark Animal Collective brazen staccato beats and hazy, born in a Baltimore loft party lyrics still remain, this time just polished up a bit. It's a refreshing turn to be able to listen to the band and not grimace at the noise being thrown back. Don't get me wrong, the album is plenty out there - "Bluish" is a track that has a twinge of 1990's Duran Duran but yet satisfies the band's freak-out quota. What sets Merriweather Post Pavilion apart from earlier efforts by the band is it's accessibility. I has a harmonious polish, while earlier work like Sung Tongs and Feels seemed a little too dense and, frankly, a bit too scary for mass audiences. Maybe I am too big of a wuss, but the song "Grass" scares the crap out of me.
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The album comes to a close with the oddly picked - yet astoundingly befitting - "Brother Sport," a raucous, frenzied opus that cements the album's brief legacy. Most bands choose a more mellow track to gently let the listener down as they realize the album has come to a close. Animal Collective, of course, picks "Brother Sport" a track that could very well have started off the album with it's white hot intensity and dance-inducing urgency. Why not get the listener all riled up as the album ends? They'll just want to play the entire thing over again, something that listeners of Merriweater Post Pavilion will no doubt continue to do right into
December, when those notorious year-end "Best Of" lists come out of the woodwork.
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Fun Bonus Fact: The name Merriweather Post Pavilion is an homage to the actual pavilion in Columbia, Maryland - Animal Collective's native state. The pavilion was designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and has what many consider to be the best acoustics for an outdoor venue. I just hope that one day a Valley band will name their album Cricket Wireless Pavilion.