For a band that's famously built their 12-year career on the basic principle that they'd never make the same album twice, Animal Collective has managed to establish an awfully distinct sound—one that, in a mirrored hall of imitators, always stands out. The idea that the follow-up to their 2009 list-topping Merriweather Post Pavilion could dip into just about any genre, from jungle-fevered folk to whirlpool synth-pop—in an industry hung up on habit and expectation—is thrilling. Through live shows and a handful of interviews with band members over the past year, a sketch of what we’d get on Centipede Hz began to take shape.
“Merriweather is a terrestrial record where you're looking up into space or into the sky,” noted Dave Portner (aka Avey Tare) in an interview with Pitchfork this spring. “Comparatively, Centipede Hz is up in space, on a spaceship—but it's a lot more grounded in one location.” The idea of a primary or anchor location speaks to the fact that for the first time in years, all four members were in the same room during the writing and recording. But still, they didn’t exactly become the straightforward garage band such an arrangement might suggest—speaking with The Stool Pigeon, Josh “Deakin” Dibb, the prodigal son/guitarist returning to the band after five years, said, “We took a left turn at weird town.”
This is not an understatement. From the opening bouts of static on “Moonjock” to the fading radio transmission sample on album closer “Amanita” some 50 minutes later, Centipede Hz continuously splatters open, morphing into a series of singular statements. Every space is covered with noise. Save for the ballad “Wide Eyed,” leveled by Deakin’s even-keeled vocals in his debut turn as frontman, the underlying samples throughout are bleating and staccato—a bold and unmistakable farewell to the long, mellowed, hypnotic sequences of Merriweather.
After repeated listens, the album’s many moving parts begin to settle, and a Magic Eye image comes into focus. Panda Bear’s forceful, one-man marching band on “Moonjock,” the seesawing melody of “Applesauce,” the middle-school choir on “Father Time” and “New Town Burnout” drive you into a sort of cross-eyed euphoria, ultimately applying greater meaning to songs about fruit and other seemingly mundane things. For all but three instances, Avey Tare handles lead vocals, his emotional range jumping from vehemently angry (“Monkey Riches”) to just plain wounded (“Father Time”).
Amidst the jubilance and reverb of “Rosie Oh,” the line “I’m on my own” stands out clear as day. There’s that famous Oscar Wilde quote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” No one seems to understand that better than Animal Collective. With Centipede Hz, they’ve given us another way to look up.