There’s a paradoxical element found within all of Animal Collective’s works that breeds small and equal amounts of frustration and intrigue. It’s not enough that they attack your senses with nonsensical dabbles of fantastical imagery, and flourishes of witty eccentricities; what Animal Collective does is try to find a way to elicit unflinching wonder out of genuine befuddlement. It’s not easy, and they don’t always succeed. However, the method to their madness isn’t nearly as important as the madness to their method. It is, I think, a distinction that I’ve never really understood before now.
I’ve never seen Animal Collective's live show, but I’ve always kind of wanted to. Not because I am a fan, you understand, but because I am not. I’ve wanted to see them live to try and figure out if that was the element holding me back from partaking in this whole neo-naturalist, post-modern, freak-folk orgy that they’ve been throwing for years. As it stands, I still haven’t experienced this. However, Animal Collective’s latest gateway drug Merriweather Post Pavilion puts me about as close as I can, I suspect, without breaking out the body paint and dancing in the mud.
An expansive, texturally rich, sonic explosion of Chamber Pop variations, Freak-Folk affectations, psychedelic ghost walks and atmospheric expertise, Merriweather somehow takes its place both as Animal Collective’s most accessible album to date, and the most lucid realization of their already established skills. The album’s stark strangeness bonds with its comforting aural technique, which remains as dream-like as it does drone heavy. This is as much a pop exercise as it is a fuzzed up, foggy mess. And, really, there’s the rub. It’s the balance that the production strikes between off centre weirdness and graceful oddity that pushes Merriweather to the levels that it reaches. And it soars.
As usual with any Animal Collective album, the sound here is heavily reminiscent of a Pet Sounds era style of production. But, dare I say, for the first time the sound doesn’t so much borrow from the Wilson model as much as it…expands upon it. Through all of the harmonic static and melodic grunting, there is a relationship apparent between the empty spaces in the corners of the album and the crammed together sonic walls, making quiet moments seem loud, and loud moments seem almost silent in their implications. Merriweather creates its own unique aesthetic that is kind of classic in its own right. This is destined to be hailed as one of the truly exceptional albums of 2009, and, perhaps much, much longer than that.