Animal Collective has clown shoes to fill following 2009′s stellar Merriweather Post Pavilion on their ninth proper album, Centipede Hz. The Collective: Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Geologist (Brian Weitz) are rejoined by fourth founding member Deakin (Josh Dibb) completing the original roster. Centipede Hz also finds the quartet back in the studio to record as opposed to trading emails for the first time in over five years, revamping their Strawberry Jam-era instrumentation.
AC’s expanding oeuvre has toured lo-fi psychedelia to cacophonous tribal rights jams, from frenzied folk to gleaming pop hooks. At a first listen Centipede Hz sounds infinitely more convoluted, confused and complex than their most recent work despite the fact that they worked once again with Merriweather Post Pavilion producer Ben Allen. With the possible exception of “Applesauce,” no song on the album even remotely resembles the pop glisten of MPP. With its trippy, sampled segues the album plays like a faulty iTrip set to a cosmic FM frequency. A few more listens and one discovers that the majority of the tracks are more-or-less orthodox pop/rock songs that are obscured with sometimes clever and sometimes distracting harmonic tugs-of-war.
Those tracks that succeed shoot brightly in multiple directions like fiber optics. The busy opener “Moonjock” and “Today’s Supernatural”’s meandering bursts fuse five or more song’s worth of hooks like an atom smasher, the latter exhibiting some of Tare’s most powerful vocals to date. The album’s closer “Amanita” is an absolute spectacle with its colorful mish-mash of noise, Japanese pop and indie rock.
The weaker tracks on the album smother monotonous loops with garish effects. “Monkey Riches” is weighed down by its heavy effects and Tare’s harsh refrains are enough to make one scream. The clunky, percussive “New Town Burnout” accomplishes precious little in six minutes. At the album’s core, Josh Dibb has his lead vocal debut on “Wide Eyed.” He sings, “I find that I am less overwhelmed with change. / Change all the time,” reinforcing AC’s admirable philosophy with regard to songwriting, but the song itself is forgettable.
After the critically praised and indie pop crossover explosion that was Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective has found themselves a hipster litmus test of sorts. There are at least two types of fans, but most notable are the former fan turned AC antagonist and, to borrow a term from Teenage Fanclub, the bandwagonesque fan. The former, butt of the unfortunately popular “hipster jokes,” will piss and moan to musical peers about how the band was getting a little too syrupy in 2004 with the scatterbrained pop of Sung Tongs but MPP was clearly designed as an opiate of the pop/rock masses – and who remembers Spirit They’re Gone and Here Comes the Indian?? The bandwagonesque fan replies lackadaisically, “Who cares? I like what I like and this is catchy.”
Animal Collective is not immune to the critical muck-raking that befalls any band who was “cooler” before they gained popularity (do not read “sold out,” but rather contextualize it for those particularly myopic hipsters) and although Centipede Hz has its clear faults, it accomplishes two important objectives by adhering to their ever-changing sound credo – it ought to challenge those more recent fans, encouraging them to visit AC’s back catalog and maybe, just maybe have those bitter, former fans second-guessing their hasty write-offs.
Animal Collective – Centipede Hz tracklist:
- “Today’s Supernatural”
- “Rosie Oh”
- “Wide Eyed”
- “Father Time”
- “New Town Burnout”
- “Monkey Riches”
- “Mercury Man”