Tuesday night I trekked up the Harlem’s River Room to attend a listening party for Animal Collective’s forthcoming album, Merriweather Post Pavilion.
(Skip the next three paragraphs if you’d like to get to the description of the album and listening party)
First off, I’d like to take a moment to say that Merriweather Post Pavilion, a gigantic outdoor venue in AC’s home state of Maryland, was the place where I had my first ever concert-going experience.
And it was a fairly traumatic one. My parents brought me along to see Jimmy Buffett, and, being from a family that rarely partakes in alcohol, it was my first experience with drunk people, who made up the majority of the crowd that night. There were people stumbling about, screaming, falling over; ridiculous line for the bathrooms; trash cans overflowing with plastic cups; the permeating smell of spilt beer, you know, all of the characteristics of a big concert that now just seem like necessary annoyances. But at age 10 everyone just seemed insane and scary.
From our seat on the lawn, the jumbo screen was barely visible through the drunken masses, much less the actual band or stage. And then, to top it off, a giant thunderstorm rolled in. We fled back to the parking lot, dodging people passed out on the ground as the rain poured and lightning flashed. The next time my parents saw Jimmy Buffett, they left me at home. So, the title of Animal Collective’s new album brought back those unpleasant memories.
But the scene up in Harlem was quite the opposite. The view of the Hudson and the warm multicolored aquarium-esque lighting was a great fit for the band’s liquid sound. After the crowd had floated towards the center listening area like little schools of fish, Merriweather began. There was serious eyes-closed concentration, some excited dancing and, of course, plenty of bobbing heads.
The album itself was immense and engulfing as it pumped from the speakers, a constant flux of booming tropical-tribal beats, ecstatic amorphous Brian Wilson melodies and millions of drops of noisy, interesting sound. It was difficult to judge the album independently of the event’s vibe, but under the circumstances it certainly impressed. Like Merriweather Post Pavilion’s squirrelly optical illusion cover (above), Animal Collective has developed a sound that, when processed by the mind, is beyond the sum of its parts. I look forward to hearing the thing again in January