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Animal Collective

Good news: the first truly great album of 2009 loses none of its charms in the live setting. Glasgow (January 13)

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It’s a canny move, calling yourself a ‘collective’. It critic-proofs you in a way not even a Kevlar windcheater could, lending every note a that’ll-do air of chaotic-but-communal incompletion, guaranteeing you a free pass on any semi-formed ideas because, hey, you’re all in about six other bands anyway and this is supposed to be your artistic release. But it works especially well when your that’ll-dos are as fuck-me fantastic as Animal Collective’s new album, ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, which, as they take to the stage this evening, sits proudly (if most probably briefly) atop the midweek chart.

It’s a deserved success for the eclectic American quartet (although only three are present tonight), who’ve spent nigh-on a decade making music that gleefully defies easy categorisation. ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ is already one of the best-reviewed albums of the year and, from the tremulous opening sermon of ‘In The Flowers’, it’s easy to see why. Frontman (if you could call him that) Avey Tare lurches around the stage, back arched like a post-rock Tom Waits, singing in a gloriously incoherent mumble reminiscent of The Flaming Lips in a tumble dryer, while tech-wizard Geologist adds the burgeoning sonic landscape, like John Constable sporting a tie-dye-T-shirt-and-caving-headlamp combo.
Technically, they’re a marvel. It can often seem you’re listening to four songs at once as not even they know where it’s all going, but gradually meaningless layers coalesce into mindless beauty, revealing the full form and extent of what they’re capable of.

And what they’re capable of also includes the occasional audacious pop song; by virtue of its big, Weezer-esque riff, ‘Slippi’ comes close to straightforward power-pop, although it’s too chaotic to get bogged down in verse-chorus-verse banality. And then there’s ‘My Girls’, a throbbing disco paean to, um, getting your family on to the property ladder (“There isn’t much that I feel I need/A solid soul and the blood I bleed/But with a little girl and by my spouse/I only want a proper house”), which is already on its way to unlikely anthemhood.

Bright, bold and joyous, Animal Collective’s triumph tonight offers conclusive proof that the geek has indeed inherited the earth. And it’s fitting these most improbable of pop stars have done it with a record of such improbable beauty.

Barry Nicolson

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