Artist: Animal Collective
Album: Centipede Hz
Rating: 7.0 out of 10
Being an Animal Collective fan is frustrating sometimes. They’re the rare kind of group that gains popularity by defying audience expectations, but this failure to do so feels less like a creative independence sometimes and more like an intentional sabotage. Until their breakthrough 2009 release, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective were an extremely polarizing act – either you “got it” or you didn’t. The straight forward, easily accessible melodies of Merriweather put a lot of that to rest, though, and this approach to songwriting surged the band in popularity. Despite this, Animal Collective aren’t an experimental group that turned into a psychedelic pop one, they’re an experimental group that happened to make a psychedelic pop record. Centipede Hz then is a return to form to the kind of music they made before, a blaring assault of sonic and electronic exploration that hides melodies underneath its layers and will definitely polarize people to the group again like their older records did before.
The problem with Centipede Hz isn’t the obvious shift in aesthetics, though, it’s the furious explosion of sound that makes the songs feel claustrophobic and packed. “Moonjock,” the album’s intro, has so much going on that it feels a typhoon of noise. This problem is alleviated somewhat by listening to the album on speakers where the tracks have more space to breathe, but on headphones this might initiate mild levels of panic attacks. Groupmember Deakin, who returns after taking a hiatus from the group, contributes the track “Wide Eyed” which is a nice respite from the chaos when it hits near the halfway point, but his parts are so prominent on the rest of the album that it’s frequently distracting.
Regardless, this album still has its fair share of great moments. “Today’s Supernatural,” the album’s first single, is classic Animal Collective, and “Rosie Oh” (one of two tracks written by Panda Bear) slinks through with an infectious groove. “Father Time” is another highlight that recalls the best moments of Avey Tare’s excellent 2009 solo release, Down There, but “New Town Burnout” (the other track written by Panda Bear), sounds too much like a track from his 2011 solo album, Tomboy (understandable as it was written right after that album was recorded). It’s still good, but a solo version that stripped away the excess of the group and kept things minimal would have worked better for it. “Pulleys” is a nice palate cleanser before the closer “Amanita” that uses the hectic atmosphere established by the rest of the album to good effect. “Honeycomb” and “Gotham,” two excellent tracks the group put out as a single a few months back, are completely absent from the album, and their replacement of other songs on this album like “Monkey Riches” or “Mercury Man” would have been better choices.
Despite everything though, Centipede Hz, like so many other Animal Collective albums, is not an album that can be easily digested on the first few listens. These songs take time to sink in, and maybe a lot of the criticisms leveled at it will change when the initial hype dies down. Regardless, Merriweather Post Pavilion wasn’t the best thing the group has ever done because they sacrificed their sound for the sake of accessibility, it was the best thing they’ve done because, for once, it didn’t sound like they were intentionally trying to subvert the power of their craft. No matter what they do, though, Animal Collective are still an incredibly unique band that exist purely in their own realm. They just don’t always have to work so hard to prove it to us.