Monday, 3 September 2012

Animal Collective - Centipede Hz

When watching a documentary about Sonic Youth a while ago, Thurston Moore mentioned that when they started out, you didn’t have to come up with a brilliant album on your first try and that has gradually changed over time. Whilst it has become clear that artists now have to deliver on their first release to succeed in a time when albums leak early (which Animal Collective have been victims of) and it’s harder to keep listeners attention – there are some bands who started off slow in the early 2000s including Liars, Ariel Pink and Animal Collective who have steadily built up a dedicated fan base and have all released eagerly-awaited albums this year that have followed up heavily hyped releases. As Merriweather Post Pavillion was such a milestone release for the experimental quartet, there is the unavoidable question as to whether the band can outdo themselves with their 9th album.

Centipede Hz is significantly more claustrophobic than Merriweather Post Pavillion in that there are so many ideas tightly packed into the 53 minute duration – a product of the initial idea that could only come from Animal Collective, that involved the idea of alien communication and transmissions; hence the intros and outros to songs that sound like someone adjusting the dial on a radio to get the station they want. It really feels like the band had fun with this record and disregarded the need to follow up MPP with a better record – and their choice to share each of the band member’s inspirations and music tastes through Centipede Radio on their website instantly makes sense even on the first listen of the new album as the collage of sounds and textures come together to form one huge, chaotic mess that recalls 2007’s Strawberry Jam with Avey Tare’s yelps offset by trippy, repetitive instrumentals.

For the first time since Strawberry Jam, all four members were involved in the recording process and Deakin’s comeback has had a very mixed reaction with some fans claiming that Deakin is now their favourite member whilst those who enjoy Merriweather Post Pavillion the most out of their albums seem less than overjoyed. ‘Wide Eyed’ is the first time that Deakin has been featured on vocals and his vocal style is a lot different to both Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s, with deeper, more grounded vocals and is accompanied by the most obvious influence of world and psych music on the album apart from the following song ‘Father Time’.

Although there are no obvious hits like ‘My Girls’ and ‘Brothersport’ were on Merriweather Post Pavillion, there are some incredibly catchy songs; most notably lead single ‘Today’s Supernatural’ and ‘Applesauce’. The central hook in ‘Today’s Supernatural’, “come on lelelelelelet go” is near impossible to get out of your head and the same goes for ‘Applesauce’s “I eat a mango and I feel like a little honey could roll/star fruit so simple and I feel like a little honey could roll” which makes little to no sense. The two elements that take centre stage for the whole of Centipede Hz are Avey Tare’s vocals and Panda Bear’s drumming. Both of which impress from the off, with ‘Moonjock’ mixing Panda Bear’s stomping, frantic drums being complimented by psyched-up, extremely manic vocals from Avey Tare.

Right from the opener, it’s clear that this is, without a doubt, an album made by all four Animal Collective members as the vocals and drums are offset by samples/alien noises from Geologist and fast-paced rock guitar riffs from Deakin. From lead single ‘Today’s Supernatural’, despite making music for over 10 years, Animal Collective sound more high energy and excited to be making music than ever. Although this is obviously not Merriweather Post Pavillion 2.0, the band don’t exactly go back to their roots like previously said; there are glimpses of most of the quartet’s material here but this is incorporated into an album that’s very much about looking forward. Even if Avey Tare does comment on ‘Father Time’, “Why am I still looking for a golden age?” 

Two of the songs on Centipede Hz are Panda Bear centric, ‘Rosie Oh’ and ‘New Town Burnout’, the former featuring reverb-heavy psych guitar hooks paired with Panda Bear’s soft, almost childlike vocals here. There are a few split seconds on ‘Rosie Oh’ where an overpowering, atmospheric guitar drone makes you forget you’re listening to Animal Collective until the bounding energy and radio samples are reintroduced shortly after. The latter, ‘New Town Burnout’, has a Boards of Canada vibe percussion wise with pulsating chilled out drums offset by a lightly echoed ticking beat as Panda Bear’s celestial, droning vocals accompany the expansive organ chords that thud as the emotional peak heightens throughout the song – making this the standout of Centipede Hz. The only problem is that ‘New Town Burnout’ could easily have been placed on Tomboy and feels the least like a proper Animal Collective song.

Centipede Hz may not be the strongest Animal Collective album musically but it manages to successfully combine so many disorientating and hard-to-pick-out-on- first-listen ideas and make them accessible. There’s no doubt that this will be a lot more divisive than its predecessor but those who originally find Centipede Hz a complete mess may find themselves coming around to its charms after a few listens. However, if you’re looking to start listening to Animal Collective – Centipede Hz is not the album to start with.


Aurora Mitchell

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