It starts out slow, like a wave washing on a shore. Geometry gradually appears in the swells, and Avey Tare shows up to meander and sway through two verses of In The Flowers. Then it happens. The sky cracks open. Like God reaching down through the frescoed roof of a cathedral, but with industrial strength strobe lights, Merriweather Post Pavilion arrives and announces its presence.
It’s stunning. The building blocks are sounds that haven’t been heard before, but the end results are feelings as familiar as can be. Rhythms cascade into each other, with syncopation undercutting the burbling top level, and the melodies seem conjured from some deep subconscious, the songs you hear as you’re falling asleep, or as you are asleep and dreaming, coloured in with the fluorescent paint of plot-free imagination.
Of course, Animal Collective have been one of the best bands around for nearly half a decade. So what’s new? Well, not unlike the career trajectory of Genesis, their drummer found his voice. Panda Bear had songs on Strawberry Jam, but it was still quintessentially an Avey Tare record, like all preceding Animal Collective albums. But his influence on Merriweather Post Pavilion is apparent, and vast.
Panda Bear paints in broad strokes. Avey’s songs are subtle, sometimes wordy, and often fairly complex, but Panda keeps it simple. He wants to build a house for his wife and child. He wants to lie in. He wants to masturbate less. He wants to perk up his brother after their father died. But unlike his solo material, where the swathes of space between his block capital theses are filled largely with sonic wandering, on MPP he has the enviable advantage of a genius and a bearded man to shade the shapes in subtler colours.
It works the other way too. Avey can still go on lyrical wanders alone from time to time, but on Also Frightened, they’re locked into almost telepathic step with each other for the entire song. And even on Avey’s tours de force like In The Flowers or Summertime Clothes, the fluid, bathyspheric sound on the album as a whole is the result of synthesis between two creative forces. And also, obviously, synthesis of actual sound.
In The Flowers is the set-piece opener, sui generis and almost physical in its assault, but the closer is just as impressive. Brothersport arrives, a slab of iced pop, after No More Runnin’, MPP’s only true pretty meander in the old AC style. There’s no mystery about this one. “Open up your, open up your, open up your throat”. Shuffling, quasi-“world” rhythms underpin some oscillations and celebratory singing for about a minute and a half before the screaming section, which lasts just as long again, building up drums and angular synth oscillations until finally the clouds of misty mystic haze first unleashed on In The Flowers clear, and Merriweather winds to a close with two minutes of carefree dancing.
I could write a 33 1/3 book about this album. Maybe some day I’ll try. But I need to pick an arbitrary point to shut up about it here, so this might as well be it. It’s been a year since Merriweather Post Pavilion came out, and persistent listening hasn’t worn it out yet. It’s the best album of 2009, for the purposes of this list, but put any arbitrary time period in front of me and I’d make it the best album of that as well. Desert island or wherever, MPP’s coming with me.