So I finally sort of gave in to Animal Collective

merriweather-post-pavillionAlright, alright. You win, Animal Collective.

For years, I’ve put the avant-garde pop band in the same category as the Fiery Furnaces and Joanna Newsom: ambitious, sprawling indie darlings whose massive Internet appeal completely escaped me. I confess a soft spot for Noah Lennox’s solo record as Panda Bear – it made my Top 10 for 2006 – but the band’s records proper felt like faint melodies buried under piles and piles of auditory mess; a textbook case of abstraction for abstraction’s sake.

I’d heard a bit of buzz about their new record, Merriweather Post Pavilion, when it leaked over the holidays but today the Internet went ga-ga over it. First Pitchfork bestows it with a 9.6, which undoubtedly set off the madness. I’m not one to place the ‘fork’s reviews on a pedestal, but they’re extremely conservative with the upper end of their rating scale (the last new record to earn a score as high was Funeral in 2004) and anything in that range is almost certainly worth following up on at the very least.

Things got crazier from there. Stereogum asked if Merriweather is the best album of 2009 and concludes: “Looks like it. Sounds like it too…” And Matthew Perpetua over at Fluxblog, whose views on the Collective are closer to mine, wrote that the record “is everything good about the Animal Collective, with barely a trace of their worst impulses…there is nothing on the album that wasn’t there all along, but suddenly they’ve got it all figured out.”

What the hell, I said, I might as well download the sucker. I had to hear for myself if this inexplicably acclaimed band were finally earning their praise. What I anticipated, though, was that the Internet music community had once again fallen off its rocker.

They haven’t.

That’s not to say that I’m prepared to join the record’s most rabid supporters quite yet; throwing around “album of the year” proclamations five days into 2009 is more than a bit preposterous. But two listens in, I’m pretty impressed by Merriweather Post Pavilion. It’s still a messy record, and it drags in the middle quite a bit, but the thing just bleeds melody all over the place and its most addictive rhythms roll through headphones like thunder. It’s like a tighter, less effuse Person Pitch with the bass and fuzz machines turned up; as natural as is otherworldly.

So if even *I’m* digging the record, it’s no wonder that the band’s fans are treating its release as akin to the Second Coming of Christ. If you want to check it out for yourself, the record’s available today at both legitimate and illegitimate online music destinations. The physical edition is in stores January 20.

Watch: Animal Collective – “My Girls” (live at Coachella 2008)

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