Nestled in the drab planned community of Columbia, Md., rests the namesake of Animal Collective's ninth album, an outdoor concert venue with a 16,500-person capacity. Since opening in 1967, the Merriweather Post Pavilion has played host to a multitude of storied rock and pop legends: the Grateful Dead, Depeche Mode, Genesis, the Eagles, Madonna. By naming their latest opus after one of the grandest stage settings in their native state, Animal Collective effectively dared to pull a Babe Ruth: They pointed their bats up toward the stadium lights, telegraphing a freak-folked-up home run. And with all due respect to the many and sundry previous stops on Animal Collective's career itinerary — the unsettling noise-neon of Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished and Danse Manatee, Campfire Songs' intimate acoustic spirals, the melted-tape twee of Sung Tongs and so on — they've never been as ready for prime time as Pavilion finds them. Noah "Panda Bear" Lennox, David "Avey Tare" Portner and Brian "Geologist" Weitz (Josh Dibb, who goes by the name Deakin, sat this one out) opted to play up the poppier and more electronic elements of their sound and, with the assistance of Gnarls Barkley producer Ben Allen, tricked out these bundles of shrieking, childish joy with trunk-rattling low end.
This gambit pays off in a number of ways. While adhering to a Lord of the Flies/Jungle Book aesthetic — long-held, wide-eyed harmony yelps, scampering rhythms free of leashes, a sense of boyish innocence maintained a decade or two too long — they're displaying definite signs of maturity. Pavilion's twin central themes — the desire to provide for one's family and the desire to slip free of the body's shackles — dovetail perfectly with the group's newly accessible widescreen sound.
"My Girls" opens with a flickering synth grid that continues to flash throughout, ba-doink-a-doink bass emerging early on to help nail home the cascading melody line and Lion King-—esque polyphonic plaints ("I just want/Four walls and adobe slats/For my girls"). The reverb-saturated, majestic "Also Frightened" waltz tramps through some enchanted forest where unseen creatures rustle the foliage, exuding parental dread. "Daily Routine," the point where Pavilion's early momentum slackens into an awestruck daze, slush-sleds through flaming thrushes of broken—Lite Brite sonics and vacuum-tubed vocal fuckery, while the gurgling "Bluish" folds Aphex Twin—isms and velvety, mid-era Smashing Pumpkins into a softly glowing alien ballad.
Animal Collective's 2007 full-length, Strawberry Jam, was infamously all over the place — mixing and matching trad, sardonic indie pop ("Peacebone") with classic Collective songs and less expansive takes on the tribal electro-pop they've perfected here.
A pair of standout Pavilion tracks make good on the poetic-snark promise of "Peacebone." Bobbing, weaving "Taste" — a Candy Cane Lane—sweet treat based around ejaculating synthesizer evaporations that suggest a perpetual Jolly Rancher—flavored spray of sparks — gets existential ("Am I really all the things that are outside of me?") and gets away with douchebag hipster pick-up lines ("Do you appreciate the subtleties of taste, girl?"). Granules pour, scatter, and like a bucking bronco rarin' to go, "Summertime Clothes" pauses, then gallops forth: tug-of-war sandpaper effects giving way to choreographed, epileptic radiator-coil synths that upchuck excited chatter, street noise and lemons-into-lemonade like "Sweet summer night and I'm stuck to my sheets/Forehead is leaking, my AC squeaks/And a voice from the clock says ‘You're gonna get tired'/My bed is a pool and the walls are on fire."
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