The optical illusion cover for Animal Collective’s latest and eighth release, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is more than something fun to look at while under the influence of the sort of drugs you might like to be on while listening to it. Curves of bright green ovals on a purple background, they appear to be in motion when we know they’re stationary. It’s an apt representation of the album’s dueling thematic components: fantasy versus reality, whimsy vs obligation, restlessness versus tranquility.
These themes of Merriweather Post Pavilion manifest in both the musical and lyrical content. Guitarist Josh Dibb, aka Deakin, decided to take time off after Strawberry Jam, so the remaining members — David Portner aka Avey Tare, Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear & Brian Weitz aka Geologist — wanted to create an album with samplers as the primary instrument, much like Panda Bear’s highly acclaimed solo album, Person Pitch. Unsurprisingly, the result is pretty similar to that album, but with multiple aesthetics combining, Merriweather Post Pavilion is jumpier, more in your face (or ear, as it were).
As part of these dueling themes, the samples seem divided between two different types of effects — those that echo nature, the rush of the wind or the flow of a river, and those that recall constructions, like music-boxes, carousels or video games. Opener “In the Flowers” sounds like discovering a carnival hidden within a swamp. “No More Runnin” is a piano-driven singalong played on the edge of a lake.
Animal Collective, “In the Flowers” (download)
The lyrics are abnormally easy to decipher as far as Animal Collective lyrics go. The hook-line-and-sinker part of “My Girls” justifies material desire insofar as the desire to provide for one’s family, “I don’t mean to seem like I care about / material things like my social status / I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls,” accompanied by twinkling samples and handclaps.
Family arises quite a bit, primarily parents and children. “Also Frightened” ponders child development, suggesting, “I want them to be who they will be / to be more like their dad.” Closing track “Brothersport” laments the loss of a father, but urges the narrator to continue on, suggesting he use his father’s memory as an influence on the way he lives his life, not as a burden, “You got to weigh what he said / to help you shape the way you play / you gotta get rid of the mourning / sort out the habits of your mind.”
Familial love and obligation is contrasted with the need to satisfy instincts of exploration, creation, sex. At the core of Merriweather Post Pavilion are its sexiest, romantic sentiments. In “Bluish,” a woman is attractive not only for her looks, but for her remarks on mundane things, “some kind of magic in the way you talk about your / blue eyeshadow.” “Guys Eyes” is carnality embodied, expressing a man’s desire to save his lust for a certain woman, “I used my mind / and I used my hand / it was what I want to do / I really don’t know what to do if my body should want to.”
But the most compelling tracks express these conflicts together instead of singularly. The desire to lay in bed and work on music is trumped by watching over kids and taking them to the playground in “Daily Routine.” The back-to-back dose of “Lion in a Coma” and “No More Runnin” tackle wanting to cut and run in the name of being “free” versus knowing that what you’ve got might be worth settling down for. “Lion in a Coma” struggles to the sounds of jungle instruments, “Sometimes I don’t agree with my thoughts on being free,” then “No More Runnin” suggests, “No more running / says my mind / all this movement / has just proved / your kisses are too fine.”
Animal Collective, “No More Runnin” (download)
In their maturation as a band and as a people, Animal Collective have stumbled on the kinds of questions we ask long after we think we know the answers, the perfect thematic complement for the mystery of an artist that continues to evolve long after listeners and critics think we’ve got them all figured out.