On 2007's Strawberry Jam, experimental noise-making weirdos Animal Collective glided on the outskirts of dreamy indie-pop. Fan fave “Peacebone” even flirted with a sunny melody that exposed a heart beneath all the usual digital flotsam. The band's ninth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is still frolicking in the clouds, skimming the surface of Beach Boys–style harmonies and contemporary psychedelia. But it's also a total mindfuck, a record so enamored of making sounds — from long, drawn-out tribal jams to Philip Glass–like bursts of repetitive minimalism — that things like hooks, riffs, and songs evaporate in the sonic atmosphere.
Now a trio, Animal Collective thrives on the dichotomy between Panda Bear (the pop-minded one) and Avey Tear (the weird one). Both trek to their respective outer limits on Merriweather Post Pavilion. The opening “In the Flowers” takes a couple of droning minutes before it settles into something resembling a groove, but the next cut, “My Girls,” immediately jumps into a bright, synth-kissed ray of melodic indie-rock. And so it goes throughout. For every bit of bouncy dreampop like “Summertime Clothes,” there's an atonal spurt of messy clatter like “Daily Routine.” But Animal Collective fans are used to this. The group has played around with listeners' expectations and gratification since Sung Tongs put the guys on hipsters' radars back in 2004. Merriweather Post Pavilion is merely their latest adventure in head music: often perplexing and occasionally brilliant.