! = recommended
* = all-ages
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Here Comes the Indian was a brash onslaught of noise to me, when I first heard it. I didn't put much stock into it, and I certainly didn't expect Animal Collective to evolve into the avant-indie media darlings that Merriweather Post Pavilion thrust onto them. As the lulling folk of Campfire Songs and the pastoral and melodic Sung Tongs exposed me to their more refined sounds, my own musical taste started to evolve into a more cerebral and experimental arena. I started to warm up to the "weirdness" of Animal Collective and how they meshed sound with vocals and other ambient textures.
By the time '07s Strawberry Jam made waves on the Billboard charts I was a solid promoter and fan of their work. So, as Merriweather Post Pavilion has saturated every critic's future best of lists so early in the year, and as hip kid indie rockers tout this band as the tour de influence in their sound, I've quietly become completely obsessed with the album.
Most of the album consists of David "Avey Tare" Portner and Noah "Panda Bear" Lennox trading vocal duties, meshing them into one lush instrument. The harmonies could stand alone, without the music, washing in and out but never turning soft. I would say that most modern pop bands owe at least a smidgen of credit to harmony-laden pioneers, the Beach Boys, but Animal Collective achieves the zen balance of Brian Wilson and co. more precisely than most. They take child-like melodies, the sweet sweet inflection of summer a la Mercury Rev and twist it into something more cinematic and layered. The complexity of sound on this album almost creates a visual representation in your head of what your ears are absorbing, much like a movie and it's completely fitting soundtrack.
The album highlight in my opinion, "My Girls", enters with tickling xylophone-like background sounds and then gently launches into a playful high-stepping chorus reminiscent of old breezy jazz tunes. Easing effortlessly into "Also Frightened", the basic sound is the same... a shimmering wall of sound topped with an irresistible Beatles-esque vocal pairing. "Summertime Clothes" is a hodge podge of sound, at once joyous and submerged in echoey hand claps and thumping bass. Once again, the vocal style just blows me away. The repetitive chanting and plopping back beats, aided by a bouncy tempo, just scream hit single. Could this be their first major crossover explosion? In turn, "Bluish", meandering and liquidious, contains the most addictive lyric on the album for me; "I'm getting lost in your curls". I hear it revolving in my head from sunup to sundown, and all the space in between.
Though this album sounds like it's the sonic chronicle of an otherworldly affair, it finds Animal Collective at their most approachable. As they double back on the vocals, it almost gets more basic than their previous efforts... more child-like and forward moving. Their songs exist as more than just simple songs. They've broken the structure of the pop song and replaced it with a formula more suited to their craft. The overlapping vocal harmonies and circular flow of their songs, and the songs within the album, hint at a much more in-depth approach to soundsmithing than we're used to experiencing.
At times elated and joyous, and other times ghostly and longing, Merriweather Post Pavilion is the most accessible, most polished and arguably the most impeccably cohesive work of Animal Collective's career to date.