Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Although cracking the album Top 40 with your ninth studio album might be considered too little too late for most, nobody told Animal Collective. Merriweather Post Pavilion (what?), with its mind-fuck artwork (huh?), hit number 26 on Sunday, thanks to coverage in everything from Sunday Times Cultue to The Sun (whu?!). We have to also thank MGMT, I guess. Okay, it's true that Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin and Geologist - hello Collective! - were making records before last year's Kids had even discovered drugs (hopefully, anyway) but it's hard to see Merriweather... getting as much press attention in a world where Oracular Spectacular wasn't the commercial and critical word-of-mouth success it turned out to be. We shouldn't grumble that it took two tie-dyed youths to pave the way for the prolifically psychedelic Collective's first semi-hit, especially considering this turn is probably their most accessible yet.
The opening to this wide-eyed whirlpool of a rabbit hole, an image as delirious but delightful as this album, describes a dancer 'high in a field' - big surprise, right? Two minutes in, and a relatively pastoral beginning explodes into a sea of shimmering - and quite possibly chemically enhanced - stars that proceed to lap at the technicolour shores of the remaining ten tracks. My Girls, the first single, is also the album's first stone-cold classic, showcasing a penchant for Beach Boys vocal harmonies set to backdrops that are both spacey and focused, where you can lose yourself in an offbeat rhythm or looped synth stolen from You Got the Love. Listeners who found Dear Science's funky art-pop turnaround the perfect sonic escape will marvel at Lion in a Coma's didgeridoo cool and the ridiculously ecstatic Brother Sport, the sound of Vampire Weekend dropping acid with Diplo (and, c'mon, who doesn't want to hear that?!). They could even court Radio 1 if they wanted to, Summertime Clothes' initial alien glam transforming into a stupidly happy-sounding stomp around a field of magic mushrooms; hopefully, its sugared-up outburst of 'I want to walk around with you!' will cause revellers to descend upon festival tents as readily as Goldwasser and VanWyngarden's own 'do do do do do do-do do do'.
Elsewhere, the enjoyment to be had as we accompany Alice deeper into this star-flooded maze is in the idiosyncracies, which are thankfully waiting to be treasured. The dreamy wooze-pop of Bluish is a welcome change of tone halfway through, throwing together two or three melodies that truly stick to an almost folky track, while Daily Routine's crazy whirl of fairground organ doesn't signpost the song's eventual collapse into chill-out bliss. The record is all the better for such unpredictability and, even when its ceaseless experimenting doesn't produce faultless results, it should be commended for 'having a go'. Guys Eyes is basically The Shins gone a bit electro; it still sounds great but isn't as authentic or wondrously off-the-wall as the songs that surround it. The only truly bum note is No More Runnin, the requisite come-down wandering aimlessly before Brother Sport's brilliant climax.
'Do you appreciate the subtleties of taste?' comes one enquiry from the sonic playground; your enjoyment of Animal Collective's latest will largely depend on your answer to that question. While Merriweather... is wonderfully euphoric throughout, the mirage is still so kaleidoscopic as to put off music fans happy with a lot less. Only familiar with Strawberry Jam myself beforehand, I admit to finding much of this album disarming on first listen. After a repeat listen, I was sure this was a release wild enough to justify the hype but was still unsure whether the music itself fully deserved the hype. Another few listens led me to writing this review, mixed metaphors and all such is my enthusiasm. Ask me in another 24 listens, and this may be my album of the year.