It would have been hard to imagine Baltimore band Animal Collective scoring a set of anthems as persuasive as Merriweather Post Pavilion even just a few years ago, back when they were touring (and splitting 12-inches) with noise mavens Black Dice and recording effects-laden primal-squawk jams as often as they were doing fractured acoustic folk songs. In 2005, though, Animal Collective increasingly started pushing pop songs through their unique set of sonic filters with their sixth studio album, Feels (relatively trad-rocking), its 2007 sequel, Strawberry Jam (bracing psychedelic sing-alongs), and most notably on band member Panda Bear (AKA Noah Lennox)'s intervening solo album, Person Pitch (echoes of Brian Wilson smeared against ambient jams).
These efforts, both in synthesizing pop into Animal Collective's more irregular audio routines and in growing their sound to pavilion proportions, reach their apotheosis on Merriweather. Avey Tare (AKA David Portner)'s sometimes wild vocal barking has been tamed into Pet Sounds-echoing harmonies; acoustic and electric guitars have been fully replaced by glittering synth arpeggios; Geologist (AKA Brian Weitz) deploys his slurred samples and found sounds more artfully than ever; everything sounds like it's hanging suspended in midair, like helium or heat, events unfolding in dreamtime; and it all happens over a bed of thumping rhythms that are equal parts tribal drum circle frolic and dirty MPC trunk-rattle.
Lyrically, the album explores the pull between grown-up concerns and Animal Collective's oft-mined sense of childlike wonder, between the ordinary world and a deep-seated desire for the transcendent. Throughout, worries about mundane material things, like providing a home and a stroller for one's family (Portner and Lennox are both married; Lennox has a daughter) or the relative importance of one's record collection to one's sense of self (all the Animal Collective guys are at prime quarter-life-crisis age) come clashing up against images of ecstatic, even literally animal, abandon: a dancer "high in a field," a lion laid out in a coma dreaming of a sensual existence.
"Guys Eyes" neatly illustrates this life/elsewhere tension, its singer torn between wanting to achieve some pure, natural state of being ("I really want to do just what my body needs to") and wanting to be less of a child/animal and show fidelity and love to his girl ("If I could just purge all the urges that I have and keep them for you"). It's also a pretty impressive song structurally: Sounds and vocals (gentle, wooshing bass thrum, distended doo-wop echoes, piano and percussive clatter) pour in like water filling up a stopped sink, only for the plug to be pulled midway through and everything to go circling down around a refrain of "[I] need her"; then the whole thing flips over, like an hourglass, and does it again, this time funneling through the words "I want to."
The brightest moments of the album are when these two worlds collide, when the daily routine reveals rivers of joy, and no song here does that better, or with more summery feel, than "Summertime Clothes." The song starts with what sounds like kids playing out on a street, then a loping loop of tuneful distortion set to a muffled bass pulse, then sing-song vocals and tinkling keys and an echoing faucet's drip. The lyrics are a sweet, simple invitation to go for a walk to beat the stifling heat indoors (a perfectly invoked NYC heat—muggy, sweltering, smelling of trash).
Even in Portland's relatively temperate climate, on a weekend that isn't technically summer yet, this song will be the motherfucking jam. You'll feel as unbound from the real world as Animal Collective's expansive, aerial sounds are from the tethering conventions of pop music, as summertime is from the gray rest of the year.