- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion
Domino Records

Animal Collective’s Baltimore County roots are clear from the album’s title, although neither the publicity material nor the songs themselves hint at why the group chose to name its ninth studio album after the Maryland concert venue.

It may be a bit of a gag, given that the studio and synthesizer effects on the album would make it impossible to replicate live onstage with just the three members of the A.C. represented here. (For whatever reason, Josh Gibb, aka Deakin, does not appear on the album.)

In performance, synth artist Brian Weitz, known as Geologist for the miner’s lamp he dons to view his equipment at shows, likely will be juggling multiple sound loops, beats and recorded parts while band mates David Portner (A.C. name Avey Tare) and Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) handle guitars, percussion and vocals.

While great pop music usually gets straight to the point, playing to the reptile brain with hummable hooks and infectious rhythms, A.C. beats a more cerebral path. Its songs typically begin with baroque digressions — synthesized sounds that would not necessarily be identifiable as music if they did not segue into more familiar territory. So, we hear wind howling over desert wastes, the sound of mechanized breathing or droplets of water striking water as sonic feints in advance of the main theme.

The lead track, “In the Flowers,” is a shining example of this sort of long-attention-span pop music. It opens with a fanfare of electronic pulses that resolves into a low, gravely rhythm with the cadence of a heartbeat. This is soon replaced by an ominous, hollow whistling sound and a building pattern of keyboard intervals before the first voice is heard, accompanied by a simple hand clap. This all takes place inside of a minute, and it’s another 90 seconds before the song’s main theme emerges — a mad, chaotic merry-go-round melody churned out of a synth calliope and undergirded by a tuba bass line. For all this precise orchestration, A.C. manages to sound, if not improvisational, at least somewhat serendipitous — as if the different parts just happened upon each other.

Animal Collective revels in the infinite possibilities of the recording studio — perhaps in conscious imitation of the seminal “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys. Singer Tare’s vocal range affords him the opportunity to leave a few hints to this effect, as on the tracks “My Girls” and “Bluish.” On the first of these, Tare and Panda Bear trade high and low vocal lines against a backdrop of drums and a chattering, nervous synth part. “Bluish” begins more laboriously, changing keys midstream to focus on an ethereal but discordant hum and clashing slightly with the vocal line.

“Merriweather Post Pavilion” is an enveloping pop experience — the kind of gorgeous, edgy, risk-taking album Coldplay should have dropped last summer instead of the tame, corporate “Vida la Vida.” The orchestrations build weird, unexpected harmonies out of opposing tonal strains. Yet there is a richness of mood here, too, as Animal Collective’s shifting harmonies draw bliss out of somber passages or proceed from ordered duets to seemingly chaotic climaxes.

For those who aren’t familiar with the band, this is a good time to get on board. “Merriweather Post Pavilion” promises to thrust A.C., already adored by fans and critics, into the popular consciousness.

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