On “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” Animal Collective sings gospel. Fifty-five minutes of explosive praise not to a lord above but certainly to some higher power, one for whom the act of making music is the greatest joy.
Their gospel is secular, though drenched with faith and soul. On this latest album (and the rest of their oeuvre, really), the trio basks in each cacophonous percussive blast, relishes every pop and shout stuffed into its perfect production. Panda Bear (née Noah Lennox) has described “Merriweather Post Pavilion” as Animal Collective’s soul music. But the album pushes further than that. This isn’t just music from the soul, chants of cathartic excitement. This is music of praise — gospel music that, though not necessarily seeking salvation or communion, is deeply reverential.
No contemporary artist makes music like Animal Collective. This is not some dude and his guitar, a standard five-piece rallying together in chorus, or the product of patching together scattered beats and a vocoder. Nope. This is music that, often overshadowing the lyrics of frontmen Panda and Avey Tare (Dave Portner), tells a story through sound itself — a creeping introduction, established tension, a rise to climax and subsequent flash, entrancing denouement. This is an exercise in structured noisemaking, an exploration of sound and the tools used to make that sound, whether it be electronic blips or the Bear/Tare vocal chords.
But on “MerriPoPa,” it becomes hard not to let each song’s meaning seep into the experience of listening to it. These are perhaps the first AC songs in which vocals are not just another sonic twitch. A collection of delicate love poems to girls, friends, family, the album tells a story as compelling, as wrenching, as the aural fireworks that almost cloud it. On the gorgeous hypnotic reverie “My Girls,” Panda plays the father who desperately seeks to provide for his children: “I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls.” Trading tenderness for passion, his hushed incantations speak strong but simply on “Bluish”: “Put on the dress that I like/ It makes me so crazy, though I can’t say why/ Keep on your stockings for a while/ Some kind of magic in the way you’re lying there.” Throughout, however, Animal Collective maintains a lush effervescence with yelps!, yees! and yows! that turn each raw pang into love’s triumphant shout.
This sonic elation is nothing new for Animal Collective. From as early as 2003’s “Here Comes the Indian,” they have filled each album with enthusiasm and warmth. Each song became a mini-symphony that celebrated above all its carefully crafted pulse. “Merriweather Post Pavilion” does this and so much more, as we see what drives the Collective to bark so loud and cry out in such pleasure.