You’ve got to have a real good time – Animal Collective
Today, Animal Collective’s eighth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, turns five years old. The album maintains a charm and playfulness throughout, as the band’s experimental tendencies are mixed with Beach Boys-esque melodies and harmonies, making the group more accessible to the masses. Throughout Merriweather, Animal Collective proved they could create an album that is as thrilling and adventurous as it is cohesive: a part of the band’s musical forest that is easy to navigate, but just as easy to get lost in.
Serendipity favored Merriweather from its inception. Josh Dibb’s (Deakin) unfortunate absence from the group (due to personal problems) led to remaining members David Portner (Avey Tare), Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), and Brian Weitz (Geologist) creating sample-based new material. The group enlisted Ben Allen (known for his work with Gnarls Barkley, Puff Daddy and Christina Aguilera) as the engineer for the album, and recording began on February 1, 2008 at Sweet Tea, a facility nestled in the small town of Oxford, Mississippi.
Recording Merriweather was “like a breath of fresh air,” according to Portner in a 2009 interview with The Quietus. “It felt like starting something new, experimenting with new ways of putting songs together and experimenting with new sounds.” Manipulating the capabilities of samplers proved challenging and rewarding. Instead of sequencing their samples, the trio triggered them live, giving the music a less mechanical feel. As a result, a natural messiness occurred as the timing between sequences and samples weren’t as exact as they might be. But, as listeners discovered for themselves a year later, the disconnect between sounds lent itself to Animal Collective’s aesthetic: an experience that could fall apart at any given moment, but somehow never does.
Even before 2009 was over critics were hailing Merriweather as the best album of the year. It was a magnum opus for indie music, earning both critical and commercial success. The album peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard albums chart, serving as Animal Collective’s highest charting release to date.
It’s understandable why. At its base, Merriweather is just as fun to dance to as it is to listen to while laying in a hammock on a sunny, breezy day. It’s primitive—it’s hard to listen to “My Girls” and not join Lennox on that first jubilant “Ooh” that comes at the 3:17 mark, or to not stomp your feet wildly when the bass appears on “Summertime Clothes.” Merriweather feels deliberately welcoming; its easy to follow along and even in its moments of mild weirdness, there’s some sort of melody, harmony or syncopated vocal pattern present to keep the listener engaged.
My first time listening to Merriweather was in 2010, when I moved from El Paso to Austin, Texas, for my first year of college. I liked each song on the album, but none resonated with me quite like “Brother Sport.” Even before I learned of the song’s background (it being inspired by and dedicated to Lennox’s brother), I became infatuated with it. I listened to it on my way to class; when I jogged; when I was sad; when I was happy. I can even recall one night where, after going through a serious breakup, I skated through my school’s campus drunk, screaming during the latter half of the song. (Unbeknownst to me at the time, Portner is known for doing the same thing during live renditions of the song.)
In retrospect, maybe “Brother Sport” was my therapy: the song I never knew I needed to get through my first year of college. I feared the independence and freedom that came with living on my own, as well as leaving a place that I had grown so comfortable with. I never talked about it—and maybe because, just like Merriweather, I was having my own moment of serendipity, the discovery of this album and its closer, “Brother Sport,” giving me more reassurance and comfort than anyone else could.
Two years later I ended up having another chance encounter with serendipity: this time in the form of a live Animal Collective performance. The group came to Austin in support of their follow up to Merriweather, Centipede Hz. Through a friend I managed to score two hits of LSD for the show, which I took 45 minutes before the band took the stage. I sucked on the blots of paper in a bathroom stall at the venue (which is funny, because prior to my entering the stall, some guy said, “You’re either going in there to take a shit or do some drugs. Either way you’ll be feeling better”) and, like a total acid amateur, expected the drug to take effect immediately. (It didn’t.)
Exiting the bathroom, I made my way to the venue’s second floor and stood on top of a second set of benches behind some tall man. The stage is in the form of a mouth, with multi-colored spirals of varying lengths inside of it. Underneath these spirals are Animal Collective (Dibbs included), performing songs that seem to just transition into one another. As the music goes on, I can feel the acid creeping into effect, as the colors and sounds coming from the stage become more vibrant.
Then Portner strikes his guitar and triggers the moment that I’ve been waiting for: “Brother Sport.”
My jaw clenches; my smile widens. I imagine that I look like a crazed recipient of the Joker’s laughing gas, or Emmitt from Freakazoid! “Open up your throat, Matt,” I scream uncontrollably. By now my body has succumbed to the music—my feet are stomping and my hands are clapping.
The bridge comes: “Won’t help to hold inside/Keep it real, keep it real, shout out.” My heart is beating wildly as I jump into the air. I scream into the ear of the tall man in front of me; he never turns around. (Maybe due to fear or because he was tripping harder than I was. I’ll never know.)
Portner begins to scream. Then I scream. Then we all scream. The feeling of pleasure that I have is so strong that I begin to cry. “Brother Sport” ends and the show goes on, but I’m still stuck in that moment. Myself and a thousand other people just created one triumphant scream. This was our screaming at the top of our lungs Garden State moment. And I think it’s safe to say that everyone present during that show will cherish that memory forever.
Merriweather Post Pavilion may not be everybody’s favorite Animal Collective album, but it’s a wildly entertaining album. It’ll be remembered and revisited for years to come: a beautiful soundtrack that’s so lively that if you don’t find yourself immersed in at least one of the album’s songs, you’re probably not human.