Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)
For its eighth full-length, Animal Collective has pulled together its most like-minded set of material, making for the group's most consistently listenable, even poppiest album, to date. Each track builds through a tension-and-release pattern based on layers of modal drones and sound effects, with Brian Wilson harmonies dropping in and out as choruses whenever appropriate. Gone are the usual free-folk elements (no acoustic guitars, or at least none recognizable as such) and organic percussive battery in favor of fully electronic arrangements, thudding bass-driven rhythms and flash bursts of synth loops that occasionally border on sounding like one-second samples of a Rick Wakeman solo.
The fact that this is still distinctly recognizable as an Animal Collective record is a testament to the individuality of the group's identity in today's indie-rock scene, its acute awareness of that identity and its willingness to boldly remold it. Here, that's come at the expense of some of the usual playfulness (more restrained vocals). But even that has its benefits (more concise and focused excursions into ambient). The accessibility of this material will undoubtedly bring new listeners. They'll have to prepare themselves for the next sonic loop the group decides to throw at them.