Curl up with this year's Housing Guide for dorm friendly recipes, curfew throwbacks and more, click here

An experimental success

In their eighth studio album, released today, Animal Collective continues a roll of innovative releases that has snowballed into the band’s finest opus.

Merriweather Post Pavilion is the most approachable experimental album of the decade and is the crowning achievement of a band that has so far appealed only to a small niche group. If one thing stands out in this album as the biggest change to Animal Collective, it is the level of professionalism.

The group’s early releases were either poorly produced or poorly thought out, which resulted in immense criticism for their ability as live performers. They relied so heavily on computer-generated music and electronically manipulated vocals that their onstage performance was an absolute disaster.

Bare-bones Animal Collective was essentially just one guy screaming inaudible lyrics and banging on a trash can while a few of his buddies wandered around the stage.

Such harsh criticism is unlikely to continue if the band performs this album as it was recorded. Though Merriweather Post Pavilion is its most electronic album to date, it’s also the most likely to work live for two good reasons: There are no frantic tribal noises and, for the first time since the band’s beginnings, lead singer Panda Bear is actually singing.

His vocals have been good in the past, but up until now they’ve served as just another layer of noise. The vocals on Merriweather Post Pavilion stay within a range below falsetto that sounds more suited to their singer and the words are enunciated clearly — which is essential, as this release is host to the band’s best poetry yet.

Much like Radiohead’s 2008 release, In Rainbows, Merriweather Post Pavilion is an album that celebrates life. Its lyrical focus is broad and accessible, setting the album apart as one of the group’s only releases that could be considered timeless.

But like many great works, appreciation for the album only increases with age.

Merriweather Post Pavillion’s layered sound is impactful and nearly overwhelming to begin with, but deconstructs with a closer listen. The individual pieces of the barrage of sound make themselves clear with each listen — and it’s quite a thing to admire. An immeasurable amount of work must have gone into assembling this album.

It may be wrong to assume an artist could have set out to imitate the style of others, but it’s hard to doubt that Animal Collective is stealing pages from the books of other alternative bands. Luckily, they’ve been reading some pretty great books.

Many of the tracks’ tonal structures feel like Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots-era Flaming Lips, and vocals on deep ambient tracks like “Daily Routine” are reminiscent of Peter Bjorn and John’s debut album.

These big changes, however, don’t make Animal Collective a copycat band. Merriweather Post Pavilion is just an improvement on genuine Animal Collective sound. There are still astonishing moments of simplicity in the album, most notably in “My Girls,” a track that begins slowly and completely changes its key signature and feel with the addition of a single repetitive tambourine hit.

Other tracks like “Summertime Clothes” refine old drumming techniques to fit with the band’s newfound musicality, and sounds fit into the pieces they garnish rather than popping up at random.

Merriweather Post Pavilion is a wonderful labyrinth — with a new surprise around every corner, confusing at times and beautiful throughout. This is the best improvement by a band in years and Animal Collective was pretty decent to begin with. It may be a bit early to call, but don’t be surprised if this ends up as the best album of 2009.