Ever since details of Animal Collective’s ninth album were announced back in October, people have come from all corners of the globe through the net to add to the glut of hyperbolic palaver and speculation. First, there was the trippy yet slightly too stoner-friendly album cover. That was followed by a fiasco around leakage of two tracks from the album, which was quickly squashed by a heavy-handed internet security firm. In the midst of all that, there were listening parties in major cities, leakage Rickrolling cul-de-sacs and, in what is surely a first, obsequious and dedicated Animal Collective fans even recorded their own ‘re-imagining’ of the album referenced from live tracks while they were waiting.
Finally, the album leaked on Christmas Day resulting in a climax of emotion of nirvana-like proportions from fans behaving like their much-promised first sexual experience came to fruition after much wink and promise in an elaborate nymphal and sexually explicit ritual. It’s easy to see why. Since the 2000 release of Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, Animal Collective have been picked up by a rabid fanbase as they continued to experiment, hone their craft and take leaps from those initial freaky acorns. Each album since has displayed a thrust forward in sound and as they progressed, their songs began to feature nods to song structures and the established principals of songwriting, instead of a -song’ where a guitar is bashed, while Avey Tare and Panda Bear, the group’s vocalists, yelp atop the track. Merriweather Post Pavilion is the most obvious apogee of their catalogue thus far, with a natural inclination towards some kind of popular standard, while featuring the band’s characteristic knack for melody and experimentation without compromise.
That is to say that AC will still baffle your average Kings of Leon fan but in their own way, they have made an album which has classic and/or cult potential. It’s fitting that the album leaked on Christmas Day as it lends itself to that imagined and accepted wonderland indelible in the culture of the season. For Merriweather occupies a magical place where beautiful electronic noise collides with idiosyncratic timbres and comes out beaming. Album opener ‘In The Flowers’ sets the tone delightfully, with a whirling cacophony of noise beckoning us to join their flighty carousel. Animal Collective don’t really do meaningful vocals, often preferring their voices to be guides, hooks and mantras but on the Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear-led ‘My Girls’, it’s the closest they’ve come so far to hand-on-heart lyrics, in a paean to Lennox’s wife and daughter, singing ‘I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls’ set to joyous whoops, while the song emits shards of short arpeggiated synth waves behind them. The song also features the first conscious appearance of some driving low-end frequencies, something which was largely absent in previous releases and helps set the album apart from their previous best on 2005’s Feels.
‘Also Frightened’ too features a bass-heavy squelch set to some beautiful (and there’s no way to get around this) Beach Boys-esque harmonies, while ‘Summertime Clothes’ is the most recognisable Animal Collective song here, due to its skipping, trance-beat as Panda Bear and Avey Tare sing the ‘I want to walk around with you’ refrain. There’s an overall sense of space between the noise, which can be attributed to the production work of Ben Allen, his first time working with the band. Listen to the already-established closing number ‘Brother Sport’, written by Lennox, for his brother Matt, whose name becomes a fantastic echo amidst a rhythmic, bleating and climatic symphony.
Panda Bear and Avey Tare’s vocal relationship helps define and refine the album’s strong danceable electronic aesthetic with some necessary humanity, as they share vocal focus and harmonies. Both men have distinctive and contrasting singing styles, yet the variance between them is crucial to the bristling energy of this record. When they align, it can be glorious. And it frequently is. Animal Collective are far from their freak-folk roots but the missives from their creatively foraging path are now essential and celebrated listening.