Whittled down to a trio (fourth member Deakin is not on the album), the band shows a focus here that it veered away from on the wildly erratic but thrilling Strawberry Jam, or wandered around on the still high-watermark Feels. Fans of the band, however, will not be disappointed.
Album opener "In the Flowers" is remarkable, floating on dreamy synths and Avey Tare's ethereal vocals before ripping into an explosive midsection of dizzy, whirling keys, then returning to the calm for its coda. Meanwhile, the sparkling, gorgeous "My Girls" and the African-tribal, explosively jubilatory "Brother Sport"--both Panda Bear-fronted tracks--are standouts.
Despite its requisite Animal Collective quirks--swirling and squishy electronics, monkish/Beach Boy vocal incantations--Merriweather Post Pavilion is the straightest effort the group has ever put forth. (Check the buoyant "Summertime Clothes" with its simple and addictive chorus: "I want to walk around with you".) The album's restrained approach creates something to warm up to, but its consistent beauty gives it serious legs.