Animal Collective don’t really like the spotlight. With 2009’s excellent Merriweather Post Pavilion, the group’s guitarist and writer Deakin took a hiatus and the band pursued a more sampler heavy work. The resulting album was surprisingly more accessible than anything Animal Collective had generated prior. Songs like “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes” got heavy airtime and even got played at some larger retail outlets. How did the group respond to this newfound attention? With their subsequent tour, they hardly touched the new record, and continued to confound audiences with their altogether obscure and dizzying live efforts (you’ll be able to witness these this month in Seattle). Then they made a movie with Danny Perez that confused and bewildered some more people, and then they put in a soundscape piece at the Guggenheim Museum that was later released as 26 minutes of noise on vinyl. Many bands that begin their careers in obscurity or quirkiness slowly move towards a poppier sound until they find their sweet spot, and then they stay there. But with new record Centipede Hz, Animal Collective moves away from the accessibility of Merriweather towards a place where the band perhaps feels more at home. And if your listening experience with Animal Collective extends any further back than Merriweather, you know that this home has the potential to be a crazy, crazy place.
Gone is all the cuteness of Merriweather Post Pavilion. With “Moonjock” and “Today’s Supernatural”, Centipede Hz opens with two slaps to the face of Avey Tare magic. The sound and dynamic is much heavier than anything seen on their 2009 record. Emotional shifts happen, on average, every ten seconds. Then, as “Rosie Oh” fades in with a cheerful little guitar ditty, you think that you’ll get a break from the insanity for one track. But as Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) comes in on the vocals, so does a wall of sound and texture that is just as complex and curious as any of the previous tracks.
Such is the story of Centipede Hz. At its heart, the album is a vast, joyful, tropical party, celebrating the animal joys of life and loving every waking moment. But to the faint of heart, it might as well be the Apocalypse.
Above is a live cut of Centipede Hz track “Monkey Riches”, mashed into Merriweather classic “Brothersport”. “Monkey Riches” represents the pinnacle of Centipede. Here, around the two-thirds mark of the record, Avey unleashes at dizzying, heaving track, whose electronic textures inhale and exhale like a living creature. Meanwhile, Avey spouts off some fantastic lyrics (if you can track them down). “Monkey Riches” is all about enjoying the animal contentment that we so easily forget about amongst the hustle and bustle of everyday life. If anything is ever consistent with Animal Collective, it is the constant stream of uplifting and inspiring poetry given to us these oft misunderstood gentlemen. In a similar way, closer “Amanita” challenges you to step back and assess what really matters to you in life and what really holds meaning amongst the fleeting time we have.
Centipede Hz is unbelievably challenging on first listen – there’s no question about that. But for a band that has always challenged us to climb to new horizons, both in our music listening and in life, Centipede is truly the perfect next step for this incredible band. While this new record may not be as radio-friendly, it demands dozens of listens in order to capture everything conveyed there. If you want a record that will both inspire and dazzle you this fall, look no further than this one.
Centipede Hz is out now on Domino Records. Catch Animal Collective at the Paramount on September 18.