Album Review: Centipede Hz by Animal Collective

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Centipede Hz (2012)

Animal Collective is not the band people think it is.

Their tunes aren’t all that deep; for example, the song “On a Highway” from Fall Be Kind merely illustrates the chains of thought that arise from minute observations during a boring trip (drumroll) on a highway. Even on their most narrative tracks the psychedelic quartet celebrates the simpler desires and observations.

They didn’t revolutionize music as we know it; their idiosyncratic sound is quite original despite tangential comparisons to the Grateful Dead, Black Dice and the Beach Boys. But now, three years after the release of their supposedly ground-breaking opus Merriweather Post Pavilion, the aftershock is only readily visible in the works of a handful of under-the-radar groups. The predominant sound of 2012 is still swaggering bass and synth-driven melodies from 80s nostalgia. Even Yeasayer, the group most often cited as following in AnCo’s footsteps, still sounds more like Tears for Fears than anything else.

That being said, whether you expected them to further pursue the sunny-day earworms they mastered on Merriweather Post Pavilion and Strawberry Jam or to retreat into the world of dark and cavernous experiments that they plundered on Here Comes the Indian, ODDSAC and Transverse Temporal Gyrus, prepare to be surprised. Centipede Hz, the group’s ninth full-length record together, defiantly achieves the best of both worlds with ease.

For a group with a track record as long as Animal Collective’s, it’s astounding how little Centipede Hz sounds like their past work. If anything, it most closely approximates the underworld sounds of Avey Tare’s solo album Down There.

Centipede Hz stays at a constantly high state of stimulation, with a symphony of alien sounds resonating all at once. The intimidating artwork on the album’s website is the perfect visual equivalent of Centipede Hz’s sound: chaotic, polychromatic, occasionally hideous, but always endearingly inoffensive.

As their wild sound and their name implies, Animal Collective have always been about passion, acting upon every impulse that flies past their 140-bpm brains. Thoughts on the afterlife, time and other weighty themes will often contextualize their music (see “Monkey Riches” or “Father Time”), but they’ve never been the point. Centipede Hz is an endlessly fun, if occasionally clumsy, step away from the norm for a band that has never tried to fit in.

Animal Collective is not the band people think it is, simply because it never has been.