More impressive than the music of Animal Collective itself is that somehow Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin, et al have managed to skirt self-parody over the course of their immense catalogue while also maintaining a high level of indie relevance. At this point in the band's career, a new full-length Animal Collective album is really a wonder to behold before the first track is even heard. And that’s saying something for a group of artists whose work demands repeated, frustratingly labor-intensive listening sessions (Radiohead also comes to mind as a band that actually requires an extended gestation period before an opinion is formed). Expectations are of course divided for Centipede Hz- and more likely than not, in some fittingly bizzare asymmetrical fashion. But no matter how die-hard of an Animal Collective fan you are, each release carries the weight of “is this the one where they truly lose me?”. Of course, others will readily admit to calling bullshit on the band long ago (the second half of Feels is a popular reference point)- while others took one sniff of the Water Curses EP and went on their merry may. One point, however, remains undeniable- 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was a profound artistic statement. Warm, melodic, and fitfully trippy, MPP was a Pet Sounds for the new millenium- a genuine treasure of an album for a band whose main detractors often complained of their tendency to abrasively avoid harmony. It seemed that Animal Collective had officially arrived to the masses in a tidy, brilliantly off-kilter, fairly accessible package. Centipede Hz doesn’t think twice about making a dead sprint in the opposite direction.
Animal Collective have always been a band capable of producing something completely awful. For all intents and purposes, Centipede Hz really should be that album. Gone are the psychedelic poppy fields of MPP- in their place is an aggressively industrial and claustrophobic power plant. Make no mistake, Centipede Hz is intense in the most pell-mell way possible (relatively speaking, there hasn’t been a more relentless Animal Collective release to date) and utterly lacking in any type of expansive mid-album breather (“Wide-Eyed”- with Deakin on vocals- comes the closest). Furthermore, the album seems to actively avoid any element of precise instrumental or vocal layering. Instead- sounds, screams, etc all just mash together again and again until what we’re left with is something akin to a brown, auditory sludge. Perhaps this has something to do with all four band members being back together for the first time since 2007’s Strawberry Jam. Needless to say, this joint definitely feels crowded essentially rendering Centipede Hz a mess. But- that said- what an amazing mess it is. Ballsy, chaotic, and confoundingly galvanizing, hearing Animal Collective this unhinged is an exhilarating experience. Case in point: lead single “Today’s Supernatural”, an anarchic tour-de-force of cascading percussion amidst tumbling organ lines that would make Ray Manzarek proud. Both the Beatles-esque “Rosie Oh” and “Applesauce” also bear mentioning as freakishly endearing tunes in their own right. And while the album does have some glaring flaws (taking a page from Feels, the tracklist is incredibly top-heavy in terms of quality- with clunkers “New Town Burnout” and “Mercury Man” creating a lengthy divide between the wondrous “Father Time” and the startlingly soothing “Amanita”), Centipede Hz sounds unlike anything the band has done before and most importantly, it never gets so caught up in it’s experimentation that it forgets to rock. It’s comforting to know that, in 2012, Animal Collective can not only still surprise us- but that the shock value feels incredibly authentic. Centipede Hz doesn’t lose us, but merely finds us in a new place- all over again.
- Fr. Jones