Animal Collective began as a band of fringe weirdos, but over time they've dropped the freak from their folk and shed the frenzied noisemaking and impenetrable aura that created much of their early mystique. Merriweather Post Pavilion further smoothes out their sound, and though it's full of cool, orchestrated beauty, it lacks the playfulness and spontaneity that endeared so many to this group.
The best track, "My Girls," starts with a glittering recursive melody over which Panda Bear and Avey Tare unfurl their intricate harmonies, putting a greater emphasis on lyrics here than ever before. The song is a complicated ode to simplicity: "I just want four walls and adobe slabs," they sing, "for my girls," and it all benefits from the implementation of synths and drum machines. Tare wins big with the sweetly sung song of unrequited love, "Bluish"; his vocal recalls some of the finer moments of Feels as it overwhelms the uninspiring, reverb-heavy guitar loop accompaniment.
Overall, though, the move away from organic instrumentation has dampened Animal Collective's spirits; once fluid and anarchic, they've become patterned and precise, unwilling to color outside the lines, more animatronic than animalistic. "Guys Eyes," "Daily Routine," and "Taste" adhere to what becomes a familiar formula: overlapping harmonies and pulsating beats blurring into indistinct memories.