Seeing how much Animal Collective's last album, Strawberry Jam, blew, I have to admit I was nervous. There was a lot of discussion, as there always is about an upcoming release. Will it take the next step? Will it be in the right direction? If so there's a sigh of relief, but if not we call it a "retread" and it must be shunned along with their entire back-catalog as if we never liked them at all, a painful and embarrassing fate for artist and fan alike. Merriweather Post Pavilion, however, has turned that argument on end. Solidly owning up to the archetypal Animal Collective sound without lapsing into repetition, the only thing this album's blowing are minds. A "retread" you ask? Nay, say I.
While their past seven releases have been typified by layers and intricacies considered challenging or esoteric, Merriweather emerges clear and refined, friendly without succumbing to simplicity. The lyrics are neither vapid nor overtly complex, but casually contemplative of what it is to be growing up and a little freaked out. Fueled by the boyish concern for his role as a father, the track "My Girls" finds iconic frontman Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) rocking apologetically over the complications of the material world and his familial responsibility. "Is it much to admit I need / A solid soul and the blood I bleed / With a little girl, and by my spouse / I only want a proper house."
As the lyrics pan from one side to the other, waves of reverb lope and swirl from all directions, and at this point it's apparent that a professional is at work. That man is Athens-based engineer Ben Allen.
The in-house engineer for all things DJ Dangermouse, Allen has had years of experience translating the complex goals of artists such as Gnarls Barkley and Puff Daddy into full-bodied, pop-pumping hits. The goal for Merriweather? Lagoon. Though you can sense something of an underwater effect in the first track, the theme becomes increasingly clear as the sound of bubbles and dripping water are manipulated and repeated throughout as bass lines, highlights and ambient-layered background noise, so subtle the theme is mostly registered subconsciously. What's obvious however, is Allen's ability to create a clean, listener-friendly (dare we say "radio-friendly") album without mitigating the crucial complexity of the "Animal Collective sound."
Easily the best recorded of the groups' discography, Merriweather has already proved itself a peacekeeper among the divide of rabid critics: Arty enough to be a step forward, familiar enough to continue in the tradition of their much-loved sound, and clean enough to gain a few new fans along the way.