Centipede Hz (2012)
Reviewed by Nathan Pasko
A frantic countdown — trendy bursts of atomic metal herald the beginning of Moonjock — now it ramps up into a squeaky and stompy verse, tumbles for a moment — drops suddenly into a satisfying chorus that you might remember from somewhere, but no, it’s somehow different —
They started out here, in our own beloved Baltimore, in 1999. Since then, Animal Collective has slowly built a name for themselves, and recorded an impressive variety of sounds and songs, ranging from their soft and sweet 2004 album Sung Tongs, to their splintery, spluttery Strawbery Jam in 2007, to their waterlogged 2009 breakout Merriwether Post Pavilion. For their ever-growing fan base, the wait since Merriwether has been a long one, but the quartet of psych-folk-pop jammers finally returned to the studio in January. They now proudly present their 10th full-length album, Centipede Hz. Abnormal sounds saturate the album; not one of its eleven tracks can escape a wiggly, ripply weirdness. It can be hard to swallow at times (the abrasive Today’s Supernatural has an endearing energy but is clad in loud, insectoid armor), but in total, Centipede Hz sounds uniquely confident and current.
As listeners have grown to expect from Animal Collective’s music, ideas, styles, and feels constantly collide, overlap, and give way to each other as songs morph, buck, and flick. The sunny dub/Beatles/car crash vibes of Rosie Oh reorganize into spacey sci-fi assertions of, “I’d like to embrace it all,” and then stomp downstairs with a final, “Have I made something? / Have I been made?” The chirpy, innuendo-stricken Applesauce marches gracefully through its complex, segmented form — new melodies springing joyfully from old as the tune continues determinedly towards a heaving climax in which Dave Portner cries and cries, “Why do I rush / Rush to blow upon the fire?”
The album slumps in the middle. Here, the centipede sidesteps into the poetic (“For the boy who relies on his anger: / You’ll survive / But you won’t feel exchange”) but stagnant Wide Eyed, immediately followed by the moderately catchy but altogether lazy Father Time.
New Town Burnout rushes along, chords swelling up beneath chrome-shelled vocals to meet a thumping, scissory beat, propelled upward by its profound portrait of a man exhausted and depressed by the twists, turns, and trials of life. Sublime, intimate, at once both thick and thin.
Songs like the dark and swirling Monkey Riches and the chanty jungle hop Pulleys groove along openly, but both are such particular compounds that they escape classification. Mercury Man has the glorious purple atmosphere of a haunted house. Amanita has the tone of the myths and legends described in its lyrics, and a playful, shuffling Eastern flavor, but it quickly mutates into a jittery, foot-stomping singalong, and again into its terminus — a huge, joyful, flickering club finale — the machine runs down — and suddenly the album spins to a halt. A long, frenetic ride.
Centipede Hz sounds dangerous and excitable like a wild beast, and it brims over with creativity, detail, and energy. Its mashed-up, radio interference qualities allude to the visions extraterrestrial broadcast that Animal Collective has cited as inspirational in its creation. Every track begs to be turned up louder. As a whole, the album sounds more current than the vast majority of 2012’s popular music — reminiscent of our bent-out-of-shape internet age, and the dangerous yet invigorating feeling of hundreds of objects hurtling past us at high speeds. The density of these songs mean that they take longer to appreciate, but somehow this is one of Centipede Hz’s conceptual strengths — like a rogue radio broadcast, we must work to tune into the frequency of the music.
Centipede Hz is available now on Domino.