With all apologies to the Stooges and "1969," it's now "2009 okay/ Across the USA/ Another year for me and you/ Another year with nothin 'to do." But with the dawning of this new year comes renewed hope for our godforsaken country, our roughed-up economy, our tattered national reputation — and some new music, too. More reasons to be cheerful — and among them perhaps the first great album of the year, Merriweather Post Pavilion.
What Noah "Panda Bear" Lennox, David "Avey Tare" Portner and Brian "Geologist" Weitz seem to have in mind for this release is to build a breadcrumb trail back to the band's altered-consciousness smasheroo, 2007's Strawberry Jam — but adding a pop twist. All of their by-now signature moves — the sunshine-stained Brian Wilson vocal chorales; the Bowie-meets-Eno-in the backseat of Kraftwerk's car drone-rock of indeterminate origin; the Phil Spectoresque wall of noiseadelic reverb coating each track like a film of about-to-be-put-to-good-use bubble-blowing soap; the lingering feeling that Yes hasn't officially released a new album in nearly a decade so perhaps this is them, under an assumed name? — are recognizably in evidence, but they're assembled in catchier, newfangled ways. Just check the flanged fabulosity and burbling bonghit samples of Lennox's "Bluish" ("I'm getting lost in your curls, all drawing pictures on your skin/so it twirls"), the airy, windblown sonic vistas and "I don't care for fancy things" populism of "My Girls," their latest in a series of arrhythmic, psychedelic odes to the waking dream ("Also Frightened:" "Will it be just like they're dreaming? Puddles that breathe, covered by leaves") and even a hot-weather anthem dedicated to sweating the girls in their scanty summer best (the deliberately eccentric and Krautrocking "Summertime Clothes," which bears nothing in common with any other rock 'n roll anthem about this subject, but proudly holds its own alongside them, anyway) and tell me you don't hear a band growing before your very ears.
The album's eleven tracks form an interesting solid mass covering every conceivable corner of the pop universe, and end up feeling a bit like ten pounds worth of ideas stuffed carefully into a five-pound sack. Inherently this is a Very Good Thing (we should all suffer from the tyranny of too many ideas) but does rather neatly demonstrate the challenge Animal Collective faces in editing all their various brainstorms into a single/digestible whole. But on this release, it works; and wonderfully so.
Ultimately, what emerges from Animal Collective's lab this time out is sort of an '00s update on Pink Floyd's Saucerful of Secrets: pure pop with all the radio frequencies ripped out, an album allowed to break free from the moorings of today's commercial vicissitudes and simply float in space on the merits of its melodies, musicality and moods. This statement isn't as pretentious a metaphor as it might initially read: back in the day, Pink Floyd was attempting a perilous career makeover, shifting from a band capable of rendering Syd Barrett's acid-flavored whims into three-minute bits of BBC-ready pop to a space-rock outfit capable of playing single chords/keys around a single thematic subject for what could sometimes amount to single sides of an entire album. What Animal Collective does here is basically start at Atom Heart Mother and go backward — the band has already perfected its "lost my shit in the blotter storm and can't get up" thing, so the only logical direction from here is to head back toward the light, where its Beach Boys fixation can make amends with its otherwise pronounced eccentricities. A perfect statement to kick off what promises to be perhaps the weirdest year we've seen in many a dark side of the moon.