Animal Collective is a strange band in setup. With three members based along an imaginary line across the States (LA, Baltimore and Washington DC respectively), and one of their main men across the Atlantic in Lisbon, it’s a wonder that they manage to continue work to together.
Even stranger is the resulting slow burning success they’ve achieved. But that explains the anticipation that surrounds this latest release, ‘Centipede Hz‘.
Following the success of 2009’s ‘Merriweather Post Pavillion‘, one could be forgiven in expecting Animal Collective to stick with that album’s formula. That’s not how this band works. Original member Deakin has returned to the fold joining Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist for their next genre-defying leap. ‘Centipede Hz’ is an album submerged way deeper in a psychedelic fug; an aural assault on the senses.
Considering it was conceived, written and recorded in Can-like marathon jam sessions then laboriously edited down into the finished product, it’s somewhat unnerving to discover a very ‘un-live’ album.
Opener ‘Moonjock‘ begins with a (possibly) tongue-in-cheek countdown for the long-awaited album and radio interference. What follows is a seemingly endless turnaround of choruses, each one different to the last. Pop melodies lie deep beneath the synth and guitar duels but Avey Tare keeps his head above the waves just about enough.
Like a modern day prog odyssey, tracks blend into one another. The myriad of samples, feedback and static jars slightly and is much more abrasive than the ambience of say, Panda Bear’s perfect 2007 album ‘Person Pitch‘.
Speaking of whom, Mr Bear takes the lead vocals on what is probably the most straightforward pop song here: ‘Rosie Oh‘. However, despite his Paul McCartney-esque harmonies, this is still a rather weird track. Rather than the standard verse-chorus format, it repeats phrases then changes again and again before a robotic voice cuts us off with a cry of “Johnnie Walker!” The beverage perhaps? The Kafka on the Shore character? Either way, odd.
‘Applesauce‘ combines lullaby verses with skittish, frenetic yet melodious choruses – of which there again seems to be many – and is another album highpoint. Panda Bear’s ‘New Town Burnout‘, meanwhile, doesn’t half sound like it should have made 2011’s solo cut, ‘Tomboy‘.
‘Monkey Riches‘ is restless, without ever going anywhere. A somewhat aimless track, and with nearly clocking in at the seven minute mark, rather outstays its welcome. ‘Mercury Man‘ and ‘Pulleys‘ build bridges of improvement towards the album-closer ‘Amanita‘. Maybe a track one could sit down and play on guitar, but Animal Collective bury it in ‘Centipede Hz’s now-trademark claustrophobic arrangements, instrumentation and effects. A method used on Big Star’s ‘Downs‘ in the 70s, though this time with less self-destructive, and much more successful results.
The band state that their influences include their “memories of growing up listening to station announcements and commercials on the radio”. In fact, it’s as if the band have relocated that memory to the here and now, every volley of sound a representation of the 21st century’s bombardment of information served on our senses every single second of the day.
And through headphones, the album title’s meaning makes sense, as the squalls, squeals and squelches dart and crawl and flitter from left to right, right to left, up, down and back again.
This is Animal Collective’s swirling, sensory, centipede of sound.