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Fur Real: Animal Collective, now with dance steps


Curtis Cartier gives a listen to January's releases and picks the best. And the winners are...

By Curtis Cartier

We get stacks of CDs here at Metro Santa Cruz. Some get pumped through headphones at eardrum-injuring decibels and others get frisbeed across the newsroom into our office incinerator. And since our readers likely don't have the time or money to invest in bad music, here are Mu_Z's top three new albums of January 2009.

Animal Collective, 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' (Domino)
It's been tough to put a label on the psychedelic chaos this Baltimore-based freak folk consortium has unleashed for the last nine years. But Animal Collective's latest record, Merriweather Post Pavilion, might be filed easily as the group's "dance album." Titled after a Maryland venue by the same name, Merriweather dives deeper into the crazed minds of vocalists Avey Tare and Panda Bear and finds that they're actually a whole lot of fun. Beginning with the hissing texture and rising choirs of "In the Flowers," the disc continues on to the warm, handclap-happy skip of "Summertime Clothes" before eventually ending on perhaps its most brilliant track, the reggae-flavored electro freakout "Brother Sport." By the time this nearly hour-long disc ends, it's apparent that, though every bit as befuddling as past Animal Collective efforts, Merriweather Post Pavilion takes the group an important step closer to standard party listenability.

Omar Rodríguez-López, 'Old Money' (Stones Throw)
One of the most creative and talented musicians ever to wield six strings of catgut, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of prog rock madmen the Mars Volta can tickle a fretboard to orgasm and punish it to whimpering apologies. On his latest album, Old Money, the lanky lefty delivers perhaps his most accessible solo disc to date. And since the frighteningly prolific musician has dropped eight, count 'em, eight full-length albums in the last six years--on top of four Mars Volta LPs and a handful of collaborative singles--he's got plenty to stack it up against. The disc, with its disjointed triads and hellacious drumming assaults, is as gluttonously ambitious as all of his previous work. But an easily graspable Latin vibe meanders its way through the record and lends a hand to timid listeners who are not used to 10-minute, six-movement epics rendered in the language of wicked math rock. Standout tracks include the Mexican lament and splintered verses of the title track, the soft howls and whining solos of "Private Fortunes" and the big brass blasts of "Trilateral Commission as Dinner Guests."

John Frusciante, 'The Empryean' (Record Collection)
While you were rocking out to Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Californication and Stadium Arcadium, the fabled lead guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers was making stacks of solo records, both off and on heroin. The results of John Frusciante's efforts have been hit or miss; he's produced brilliantly unique masterpieces (2001's To Record Only Water for Ten Days) and bastardized miseries (2004's A Sphere in the Heart of Silence). On The Empryean, Frusciante tells a single cohesive tale about "two characters that exist in the mind of one person" and about the life, love and death that exist all around them. With minimal piano-led ballads like "Dark/Light" and the vocal tearjerker of "God," this is the best stuff Frusciante has put out since he lived "Under the Bridge."

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