If one term could to be used to describe Animal Collective, it would be “acquired taste”. Throughout the bands strange and boundary-pushing career they have prided themselves on releasing music that is just as shocking and difficult as it is catchy and inviting. The band honed all of their most accessible intricacies in and came up with their commercial breakthrough Merriweather Post Pavillion in 2009. The album was pop and electronic bliss, hoisting a super slick production that was also very warm and lush. If you could call an Animal Collective album “accessible”, that would be the first one on the list.
The big question is, however, when you’ve reached the breakthrough – especially when it is on your eighth studio album – where do you go next that you haven’t gone already? You are at a creative peak; you’ve found a sound that both critics and average music listener’s love, and now you’ve got to keep momentum going. Do you just put out Merriweather Post Pavillion 2, which would likely get you more solid radio play but maybe less love from critics? Or do you forge a new path, offering something new rather than cashing in on past success? Well, Animal Collective never makes the same album twice, and the heightened acclaim and fame that Merriweather Post Pavillion gave them certainly did nothing to change that.
Centipede Hz, the band’s 9th studio album, is the bold counterpoint to their previous album. The production is jarring and in your face instead of smooth and polished. Songs like “Moonjock” and “Today’s Supernatural” start off the album with a literal and figurative one-two punch. You hear very thick and pounding percussion which eventually becomes more and more layered to the point of becoming an electronic frenzy, and this madness does not let up much at all throughout the album. What is also notable is that Avey Tare is singing most often on this album, which likely explains the more bombastic sound compared to the last album. His singing and style is much more energetic and rambunctious compared to Panda Bear, whose sound came through the most prominently on ‘Merriweather Post Pavillion‘.
As the album goes on, we are given some breathing room with a midsection that is a bit more reserved and ethereal. “Wide Eyed”, which is performed by newly returned member Deakin, is a simple and catchy tune that has the same looped instrumentation for the entire track. Deakin’s vocals aren’t anything special, but the lyrics are actually very strong on this track which makes up for it. “Father Time” features a more leisurely pace though it still has Avey bouncing along even though he’s a bit more hushed on this track. The finale of the cool down comes with Panda Bears second and final track on the album, “New Town Burnout”. It’s 6 minutes long, and it uses the longer run time to craft a slow burning and rhythmic tune that also gives a little more emotion than most tracks on the album.
However, the most emotional – and frankly best – song on the album comes by the way of the closer, “Amanita”. As the song begins we are immediately hearing a very dramatic synth that is accompanied by tumbling and quick drum beats. Avey Tare sings about tradition falling by the wayside, and fearing that it will be gone forever. “If it’s going hiking, then I’m going hiking.” The song trucks along as Avey continues to wonder what will happen to all of the familiarity and warmth that is going away and asking, “What have we done?” Then, about halfway through the song in what is perhaps the best moment on the album, the song erupts. An enormous explosion of synth and fast drum beats permeate the background as a much more upbeat Avey Tare tells the listener what he’s gonna do to set things right again.
“What are you gonna do?
Go into the forest
Until I can’t remember my name
I’m gonna come back and things will be different
I’m gonna bring back some stories and games”
It’s just a flat out masterpiece that hits you on a level that is more personal than perhaps any Animal Collective song that has come before it.
Centipede Hz is a great album that both challenges the listener accustomed to the bands recent pop tendencies, but also gives them familiarity with extremely catchy melodies and beats. The band has proven to become one of the premier experimental/electronic acts of our generation, and continue to release gem after gem. It might not be a revolution in terms of sound, but when you create something this good, who cares? The fact of the matter is the band is extremely good at what they do, and they show no signs of running out of ideas. Animal Collective, please keep doing what you’re doing.
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Genres: Neo-Psychedelia, Experimental Rock, Electronic