Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion

I’ll go ahead and drink the kool-aid: Merriweather Post Pavilion is a landmark album, an event, and asserts without much doubt that Animal Collective have set the bar pretty high in just the first week of 2009. Not since Sung Tongs has the group reached a level of symbiosis that could keep the legion of new wave hippies in a perpetual lysergic bubble and convince the hoi polloi that Animal Collective continues to be relevant. And this because of their everlasting, albeit idiosyncratic, pop ambitions, not their pretentious adventures. Here expectations are exceeded two-fold, with the band maintaining a childlike abandon through slippery, amorphous synth spizzle and mindless tongue twisters, while bolstering their miasmic melodies through a sonic blender spun with a sharp focus on psychedelic maximalism.

On first listen, MPP is, in purposeful jest, quite overwhelming. With “Taste” Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) asks if “you appreciate the subtleties of taste buds,” which is contextually a suitable question as there’s a certain tolerance needed to enjoy the constant bombardment of bauble and beat, shapes and colors, fever dreams and terror visions, that most times run counter to each other in a dizzying blur. With their cultural compass here pointing in all directions at once, it’s easy to extract entirely different perspectives from each subsequent experience with this giant of a record. Where in the past they’ve pilfered and peeked into particular world rhythms for inspiration, on MPP they revel in their own fantasy creation as on the infectious head-sway of “Summertime Clothes,” equal parts Jamaican dub-plate, Candyland hallucinations, Brian Wilson surf shack and gamelan pixie dust. There’s a similar oversaturation that swells in the grand finale, “Brother Sport,” as Brazilian guitars skitter with electro-ritual before bursting forth in a drum-circle ending that manages to outsize all that comes before it. Still, contrasting such disorienting claustrophobia, MPP boasts a handful of near-cosmic lullabies, the best being the penultimate “No More Running,” a song that drips with star-dew and magnifies the group’s choral harmony with a calming spiritual power.

We are hearing the future: an urban jungle megalopolis where the pulse of the barrio, pop radio, and the sound systems blaring from the windows of ethno-hipsters are all capable of giving a big hug to humanity/humility. And at it’s most base, Animal Collective dedicate MPP to the nights spent at the album’s namesake, an outdoor venue that probably caused many a night of musical inspiration for it’s teenage attendees. It’s that innocent ecstasy felt through natural reverberations, sour twilights, illicit drugs, autumnal crisp and cathartic tribalism that this album strives to harness and it does so without once managing to stifle the imagination. For capturing that, MPP deserves all the accolades that are thrown its way.
Kevin J. Elliott

El Goodo

There’s an old maxim that basically says you’re either a Beatles person or a Stones person. Welsh five-piece El Goodo prove themselves to be the exception to the rule, and their sophomore full-length, Coyote, benefits from being sympathetic to both camps. First noticed by fellow countrymen the Super Furry Animas, they share those heads’ penchant for washing their pop rock in a ’60s-style batik wash of reverb and hazy melodies. “Aren’t You Grand” recalls the Fab Four circa “Eight Days A Week” and “Pete” circa “Yellow Submarine,” and the Stones’ influence can be found on the stomping leadoff track “Feel So Fine ,” but throughout the album it’s just as easy to hear Byrds, Zombies and Velvets nestled in the grooves too. El Goodo manages to meld all this and avoid any noticeable anxiety of influence, instead benefiting beautifully from their luminaries. Coyote hearkens to this golden age without sounding like a golden oldie, though some of the band’s more whimsical moments (like using the refrain from Blue Suede’s “Hooked On a Feeling” in the middle of “Talking to the Birds”) make you wonder if they got into the brown acid. Yet, another old saying is that hindsight is 20/20, and for the most part the group has taken elements from the past to shape a sound capable of a promising future.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Feel So Fine”

Matt and Kim

Matt and Kim are a duo from Brooklyn, New York, and they fit neatly into a niche of the kitschy dance-punk music scene (think Les Savy Fav meets the Rapture). They released their self-titled debut album in 2006, and, as the story often reads for quirky dance-punk bands from Brooklyn, they subsequently gained a fan base, critical praise, and slots on the bills at Lollapalooza and the Siren Music Festival. Fast-forward to the present and Matt and Kim have returned to their roots, recording Grand in Matt’s childhood bedroom. Though production may have been low-key, Grand is a delightful step forward for the eccentric duo.

The album doesn’t stray far from the musical simplicity that made them so likable in the first place. But with the utilization of synthesizers and the melodica, the tracks have more depth this go-round. Repetitive drum beats and child-like piano melodies remain prescient, though they’re much fuller and musically more satiating. The album kicks off with first single “Daylight,” a rhythmically rich ragtime piano-driven tune. It’s melodic and upbeat, and sets the bar high for the rest of the record. The remainder of the tracks on Grand stick to the Matt and Kim formula: quirky and catchy, with repetitive drumbeats, synth-pop interludes, and innocently sweet piano hooks. They don’t disappoint, but aren’t without their faults either.

The album struggles lyrically. The same naiveté that works for the music just seems overdone when applied to songwriting. Quirkiness can be captivating, but ultimately, the lyrics branch into the territory of obscurity for the mere sake of being artsy. But then, who’s really paying attention to lyrics with melodies so damn catchy?
Jennifer Farmer

AC Newman
Get Guilty

With so many egos, er, talents in the New Pornographers, it’s little wonder that Carl Newman feels the need to step out on his own every once in a while, despite being the leader of the band. As such, here is Get Guilty, the follow up to his first solo venture, 2004’s The Small Wonder. And like that debut, this album is not some barebones affair attempting to reveal the artist’s spine without his band. No, Newman’s forte is the big pop song, and the main difference between his solo records and that of his band is merely a matter of proportion and the talents of the contributors.

Get Guilty somehow seems more studied than Small Wonder, however, like Newman has taken stock of his past successes. Lacking the saccharine of, say, the Pornographers’ Twin Cinema, and also some of their records’ overblown production, the album is filled with slowburning charmers. “The Heartbreak Rides” favors hushed tones, like the ones typical of the Shins, but without diminishing the big beats and horn punctuation. “All of My Days & All of My Days Off” recalls the Left Banke, meshing flecked vocals with big guitar hooks and a sparkling piano melody. Newman doesn’t have to try so hard these days, and as Get Guilty shows, it’s sometimes better when he doesn’t.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Submarines of Stockholm”