2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was a landmark record; its sound epitomizing the new decade’s acceleration towards rock and pop’s reliance on digital production. It’s also often been compared with the Beach Boy’s masterpiece, Pet Sounds, in its composure; a mix of pop, psychedelia and the use of latest sound production technologies, its ambition and its perceived responsibility in shifting the musical landscape. There are striking similarities in the lyrical content; how, in an age where American culture was shifting rapidly (with Pet Sounds paralleling the youth movement of the ‘60s, and MPP paralleling social media’s ascension in the new millenium), the Beach Boys and Animal Collective focused less on the cultural phenomena of the time, and more on the simple, timeless things in life like the pursuit of happiness and love, almost as if intentionally rejecting these pushes toward the future on the surface, with lyricism, while embracing them beneath, with instrumentation. AC no doubt intended on these similarities, and why not try and replicate a modern day version of one of the greatest records ever made? Most agree they succeeded; Merriweather Post Pavillion is one of the most universally acclaimed records of the past thirty years. So as a self-proclaimed music nerd it lends to the question I ask myself whenever I play MPP: why don’t I feel the same way?
But before I get to that let’s talk about the positives. The first single to be released, “My Girls,” is unquestionably one of the new millenium’s pivotal tracks. Panda Bear and Avey Tare sing of how they strive only to better the lives of their families while foregoing “material things” and “social stats.” Either culturally genius or circumstantially fortuitous (or both), Animal Collective nailed the symptoms of the upcoming years. “Summertime Clothes,” is the best example of their seamless explorations into electro-psychedelia, grounded by the simple, excellently delivered line, “I want to walk around with you.” “Daily Routine” combines a schizy blend of beats and synths before culminating into a gorgeous mix of dreamy samples and vocals. “In the Flowers” and “Also Frightened” are also solid. All of these highlights reside on the first half of the record, marking an admittedly strong half but giving way to a Side B of largely filler. I also think the accessibility of Animal Collective’s music here, even at their most straightforward, is overstated; it can often feel muddled, claustrophobic and, dare I say, a bit pretentious. But before I offend anyone (if anyone has read this far), perhaps I should admit that I prefer my rock and pop to contain guitars; some non-digital, organic instrumentation, and I always will. Being a skilled if unsuccessful guitarist (humblebrag?) for many years, my natural reaction has been to resist electronic music-- most likely some narcissistic survival instinct. And however much I might have become more open-minded to it over the years, I prefer a more accessible brand of electronic music than what MPP provides. The thing is though, as a fan of all music and its place in history I’d be ignorant to suggest this record isn’t of significance, or that I didn’t admire its ambition; some records are made to change the musical landscape, and it’s up to us to decide whether we want to go along for the ride or get left behind.