The critical and blogging hype surrounding Animal Collective's ninth album Merriweather Post Pavilion is a sure sign that the Baltimore band are on the verge of finally breaking. Music website Pitchfork gave the new album 9.6, the highest score awarded to any album since Arcade Fire's Funeral in 2004, and the album looks set to hit the Top 10 – impressive for an experimental band that plays a mainstream-shy mash-up of electronica, prog, psychedelia, folk and techno, and which had previously only dented the Top 200
That the trio, dressed down in hoodies and each posted at their pews at various complex synths, keyboards and mini-drum-kits, do not interact with the crowd does not affect their connection with their audience tonight. At best, the music transcends; they command the crowd with the barrage of soundscapes which sweep up and envelope the listener into a trance-like state. At their worst, but only on occasions tonight, beats become repetitive and the audience has to make do with watching the colourful lights that fill the stage.
But Animal Collective rarely let the beats settle, all the time changing signatures and textures to keep the sounds in a constant intriguing flux and exuberance. Geologist, tonight with a torch strapped to his head, Panda Bear and Avey Tare tend to write their songs while jamming together and there is that sense of the unexpected and wonder when they merge one song into the next. Opener "In The Flowers", from the new album, is one of their more melodically accessible tracks – a gorgeous, swirling song, showcasing their Beach Boys-esque harmonies. "Daily Routine" is Oriental-flavoured, with the tribal singing of Avey Tare, whose yelps and undecipherable whoops fit alongside Panda Bear's more controlled mellow, tenor vocals. "Brother Sport" is the best example of their African influences. A joyous and bold song, its soulful singing and trippy ambience sparks moments of euphoria and sends the crowd bobbing. They end on the warm and mesmeric "My Girls", a paean from Panda Bear to his wife and daughter in Lisbon.
By the end of their set they have returned to the same crackly samples and catchy electronic arpeggios with which they started the show. To see Animal Collective live is to enter on a journey. Their polyrhythms and melodies may be disorienting, but they are always exciting. If you let yourself be transported, you can't fail to be swept along to pastures new.