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NEW YORK (Billboard) - When it burst onto the indie rock scene in 2003, Animal Collective was tagged as the leader of the budding freak-folk movement. While that descriptive has since faded, it hinted at one thing: The band likes to do things differently.
That goes for everything from strange band names (Panda Bear, Avey Tare) to songs about weather to an ever-changing musical approach. Most recently, on 2007's "Strawberry Jam," Animal Collective ditched the lush, acoustic arrangements of earlier work in favor of a louder, electric guitar-meets-electronics attack.
And even though it recorded as a trio (guitarist Josh "Deakin" Dibb took a self-imposed break from band duties), the move toward a larger sound continues on "Merriweather Post Pavilion," due January 20 from indie label Domino.
"Since there are only three of us playing, especially for the live situation, it just seemed more interesting to use samplers instead of a lot of live instrumentation," Dave "Avey Tare" Portner says. "It's a lot more low-end -- and that was a conscious decision on our part -- to make a record that was for the most part more rhythm."
The result is a heavy mix of thumping, sample-heavy psychedelia, best heard on sprawling opener "In the Flowers" and the romantic, subdued "Bluish." The album certainly sounds like the work of a band, but one not connected to a specific music scene.
That ideology has helped drive Animal Collective to the top of the indie-rock food chain in a relatively short period of time. Although few would call its music accessible, the group has sold 176,000 albums in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, with 2005's "Feels" at 55,000 and "Strawberry Jam" at 50,000.
Instead of drawing on direct influences, Animal Collective makes albums with a connection to places in mind. "We usually try to connect to outdoor environments, and there was something about this that was harking back to the time where we would be outside, in backyards, listening to music on a boombox," Portner says. "Because that's how we really grew up and got attached to listening to music together."
Hence the new album's title, which shares its name with an amphitheater in Columbia, Md. "I had seen the most concerts there, growing up," Portner says. "But we didn't really name it after the venue. We really liked the way it sounds and that it has the word 'weather' in it. We cast a lot of the songs to different weather patterns."
Domino, which picked up the band from Fat Cat in 2007, began rolling out "Merriweather Post Pavilion" through private listening parties last month in the hopes of cultivating word-of-mouth. The label will cater to hardcore fans with the album packaging; the CD features a four-panel Softpak inside an interlocking envelope, while the double vinyl is a gatefold with printed inner sleeves.
Animal Collective will tour throughout 2009, including an appearance at the second All Tomorrow's Parties New York event in September. The group is also planning to hit the studio again to record music for an as-yet-untitled video project.
Buzz for "Merriweather Post Pavilion" got an unexpected boost when a member of like-minded band Grizzly Bear posted a leaked MP3 of the song "Brothersport" on his blog, prompting a take-down notice from content monitoring/Web policing firm Web Sheriff and a host of coverage in the blogosphere.
"The goal is to create an atmosphere where everyone from fans, record stores, radio stations and journalists all feel like they are a part of this release as early as possible," Domino U.S. label manager Kris Gillespie says. "We want the promotion and marketing to stem from that excitement."