Animal Collective are weird. That’s all there is to it. It only takes one listen to songs like “Peacebone” or “Infant Dressing Table” or, most importantly, “Who Could Win A Rabbit?” to know that they are a little bit out there. To most, in fact, they are far from what you would call “accessible” and quite possibly outside of the realm of “tolerable music.” Nevertheless, Animal Collective is a band that has wedged itself into the canon of independent music over the course of the last decade because they are weird.
However, in 2007, the band did two things to distance themselves from the likes of songs like “Who Could Win A Rabbit?” in two ways: 1) they released Strawberry Jam, which is just as avant garde as the rest of their catalogue, but with added coherence and pop sensibitlities, and 2) frontman Panda Bear released Person Pitch, an album that has been described, by many a person, as an album that Brian Wilson should have released. Pitchfork’s review of the album talked about how, over the course of the year, it felt as though it changed with the season, from feeling bright and excited in the summer, to mellow and reminiscent in the fall. In short, it was an album that adapted to everything around it.
Merriweather Post Pavilion does the same thing, but on a smaller scale. On the opening track, “In The Flowers,” slow and quiet guitar and distant vocals swirl as Avey Tare sings, “Feeling envy for the kid who danced in spite of anything/And we’re out in the flowers and feel better,” and when he sings “If I could just leave my body for the night,” the track explodes into a shower of technicolor, with Avey singing at the top of his lungs.
“In The Flowers” segues into “My Girls,” and from there on, the album can only be described as “resplendent.” Topics range from squeaking air conditioners (“Summertime Clothes”) to the sidewalks of Chinatown (“Lion in a Coma”), and never, even in the quieter tracks, does the album fall away from encapsulating a season in the same way the Beach Boys managed the same with Pet Sounds. Only on Person Pitch has the band managed to take a still of the emotion behind simply living life. Merriweather serves as a photograph of a group of friends at the beach in June, as empty Corona bottles near a bonfire in July, as a lover tangled in the sheets of a rented beach house in the middle of August.
It’s all here: the slowly building joy that the season has come (“My Girls”), the emotional devastations of the loss of a summer love (“No more runnin says my mind/All this movement has just/Proved your kisses are too fine” – “No More Runnin'”), and a final, wonderous celebration of the sun, yelling, pleading, “stay young, god damn you” (Until fully grown/You got a real good shot/Won’t help to hold inside/Keep it real keep it real shout out” – “Brother Sport”).
When the final, resplendent shouts of “Brother Sport” have died out, just like the nervous light of September creeping through the blinds, there’s a deep hunger pang, because you know that you need more. This is the remarkable beauty of Merriweather Post Pavilion: it’s flawed, and it’s humid, but just like the summer, you know that soon, very soon, you can enjoy it again. Animal Collective may, in fact, be a very weird band, but sometimes it takes the weirdos to make you yearn for the sun to come back.