You know that the hype machine is near implosion when an album is proclaimed as the year's best before a) it's even been released and b) the year is barely nine days old. It's taken Animal Collective nine albums to reach the levels of expectation and adoration last commanded by Arcade Fire; their experimental pop was previously either too out-there or too unclassifiable to make any huge impact on the indie scene.

Thanks to an elongated leak-related furore, however, Merriweather Post Pavilion (named for a venue in their home state of Maryland) has become one of the most anticipated albums in recent memory, attracting completely unnecessary levels of hyperbolism and gushing praise. That said, the attention is not totally unwarranted; the Baltimore quartet have most certainly made their most accessible and consistent album to date, ensuring that their back catalogue won't languish in the dusty recesses of your local music shop as it has done for the past eight years.

The core of the collective - Avey Tare and Panda Bear - have come up trumps with a series of exquisitely beautiful songs that swell and shimmer, glitter and metamorphose, but are never pretentious enough to alienate the listener. My Girls and Bluish are immediate standouts - both love songs with swoonsome beats that thump like heart palpitations - but there's plenty of innovation to also be found in the wispy gurgle of Summertime Clothes, the grimy, funk-like Lion in a Coma, and superb closer Brother Sport, an unabashed pop track that descends into a hypnotic mini-rave.

One thing, though: Merriweather Post Pavilion is most affecting when listened to through headphones for maximum absorption of its often unsettling dream-like vibe. As innovatory pop albums go, this is an absolute must-listen.