One Week With ‘The Best Album Of 2009,’ In Bigger Than The Sound

Does Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion live up to the hype?

Conventional wisdom holds that there are still 351 days left in 2009 and that, really, anything can happen. Fortunately, conventional wisdom does not exist in the blogosphere, which is why I am happy to report that after just 14 days, 2009 is a wrap. Finished. Over. Dunzo.

Music-wise, at least.

This is because, on January 6, [artist id="1236835"]Animal Collective[/artist] released Merriweather Post Pavilion, 55 minutes of ambling psychedelia and rumbling low end that was universally proclaimed to be “the best album of 2009″ by just about every blog on the planet (OK, probably only about half of them).

It’s the kind of hyperbole that I usually find hilarious — I mean, the year was only six days old at this point. But combined with the glowing 9.6 rating Pitchfork hung on the album (the highest rating the site has bestowed on a new album since the 9.7 it threw at the Arcade Fire’s Funeral back in 2004) and the weeks of Web-Sheriff-fueled drama that led up to the album’s release, I have to admit that it sort of worked on me. If Merriweather Post Pavilion was really the best album of 2009, one worthy of ridiculous statements and mania and legal threats, well, then I most certainly had to hear it.

Nay, I had to experience it.

So, last Tuesday, I grabbed a digital copy of the album (MPP was released both digitally and on vinyl that day, but the CD is due next Tuesday) and decided that I was going to listen to it — and nothing but it — for a week straight. And for seven days (or 168 hours, or 10,080 minutes), Merriweather Post Pavilion was my soundtrack. On the subway, at the gym, in the shower, sitting at my desk, laying on my couch, driving in my car — my ears and brain were filled with the burbling soundscapes of possibly the greatest band of our time, a group Wikipedia awesomely sums up as “a critically acclaimed New York City/ Washington, D.C/ Lisbon based music collective of avant-garde musicians from Baltimore, Maryland.”

And, come to think of it, that’s probably the most dead-on description of Animal Collective I’ve ever read. Anyway, what follows are some notes from my week with Merriweather Post Pavilion. Does it live up to the hype? Did I have the best week of 2009? Read on to find out.

Tuesday, January 6, 10:15 p.m.: I finish downloading Merriweather Post Pavilion at my apartment and attempt to play it on my speakers. Almost immediately, I am overcome by a wave of flowery sonic flatulence that rattles the floorboards and causes my wife to sprint in from the other room and shout, “What is that?!?” before telling me to turn it down. This is how the album starts. My neighbors are not pleased.

Wednesday, January 7, 8:55 a.m.: As the spindly guitars (banjos?) of “Flowers” exhale into the icy synths of “My Girls” (which subsequently builds to a raving chorus complete with electro bleeps, shouted “Owwwwws!,” handclaps and downright gnarly bass), I begin to imagine that I am not stuffed between some dude with a mustache and a 300-pound woman on the L-Train but, rather, shirtless, bathed in Technicolor sweat, dancing on a beach, my body entwined with other Technicolor youth, forming a great, unending chain. The moon is low, the stars bright. Campfires dot the horizon. This is by far the best rush-hour commute of 2009.

Wednesday, 10:45 a.m.: I have a discussion with my co-worker, Christopher “CJ” Smith, who tells me I need to listen to MPP on a reaaaallly great set of speakers, because it’s “dance music” for the next decade and that the bass is so intense that “hip-hop kids will be driving around in low-riders blasting it from their trunks.” I smile and nod. He is very young.

Thursday, January 8, 12:58 p.m.: My officemate, Garth, describes “Lion in a Coma” as “being sort of Grateful Dead-y” and says that he would “definitely smoke drugs while listening to this,” despite the fact that he’s “not really a pot guy.” Hopefully, Garth’s mom is not reading this.

Thursday, 7:07 p.m.: I am not running on a treadmill; I am sprinting through a psychedelic forest, being chased by a saber-fanged creature who looks like the Gmork from “The Neverending Story.” On a related note, the opening moments of “Lion in a Coma” — breathy pants, electronic frippery, didgeridoo (?) — are terrifyingly great. This is by far the best treadmill session of 2009.

Friday, January 9, 4:45 p.m.: I am attempting to think of ways to describe the bass on songs like “Also Frightened,” “Summertime Clothes” and “Lion” — which are, I’m assuming, the handiwork of AC “sound manipulator” Geologist (a.k.a. Brian Weitz). So far, I have come up with the following: “like granite blocks tumbling down the stairs,” “like something from Bjõrk’s Homogenic album, only flattened with a mallet,” “like what those spiky blocks with the angry faces in the ‘Super Mario’ games sound like when they womp the ground.”

Saturday, January 10, 11:45 a.m.: My wife informs me that she loves the sentiments contained within “My Girls,” which seems to be about co-vocalist Avey Tare’s desire to ditch the trappings of, uh, celebrity and move his wife and daughters to an adobe hut. Unless, of course, the song is about something sleazy, that is. I tell her that I don’t think it is. This is by far the best discussion my wife and I have had about other girls in 2009.

Sunday, January 11, 2:43 a.m.: I am unable to sleep, as my eyeballs are bouncing around in my skull like the syncopated computer bleats and sampled animal yelps in the middle section of album-closer “Brother Sport” (which sort of goes like “Wooo! Doo Doo Doo! Woo! Doo Doo! Woo!”). This is either because Merriweather Post Pavilion is boring its way into my subconscious or because I drank five cups of coffee and smoked roughly 57 cigarettes during the Steelers/Chargers game.

Monday, January 12, 1:15 p.m.: At work, I am reminded that once, when my wife and I were sitting in an airport bar in Reykjavik, Iceland, we met a guy who claimed to be Avey Tare’s dentist. He said he had known Tare since he was a kid and that he was “really nice.” We had no reason not to believe him.

Tuesday, January 13, 5:39 p.m.: The goofy sorta-samba and echoed vocals and bleep boops of “Brother Sport” come to an end, and with them, my Animal Collective experiment. I am not sure how I feel about this. However, I’m certain my wife, my neighbors and my officemate are unspeakably thrilled.

So, after a week spent with the album, what do I think? To be honest, I’m not really sure, though I know I like it. A lot.

To be fair, I’ve never really been the hugest AC fan in the world — I appreciate 2005′s Feels album and was sort of mystified by ’07′s Strawberry Jam — but having said that, it doesn’t stop me from realizing that MPP is far and away the best thing they’ve ever done. I’ve read people describe it as the group’s “pop” album, an assessment that, at first, struck me as kind of funny, but after repeated listens, one that I sort of agree with. There are genuine, sun-dappled moments of pure pop on the record (the choruses of “Summertime Clothes” and “Lion in a Coma,” to name a pair), and I really can’t say enough about the production, which captures both the rumbling lows and the spiky highs with a clarity that belies its (assumed) non-budget.

But is Merriweather Post Pavilion the best record of the year? Maybe. There’s still a long way to go in ’09, but in terms of sonic wallop and sheer experimentalism, I don’t think it’s going to be beat. If you view the album as the culmination of Animal Collective’s decade-plus career, then it’s an even greater achievement — one born out of pushing envelopes and redefining the boundaries of sound. It all led to this moment. And, if you consider yourself a connoisseur of music, that’s exactly what Merriweather Post Pavilion is: A moment … one you will probably remember for a long time.

My moment just happened to last for an entire week.

Questions? Concerns? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.