Album Review: Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
Animal Collective have reconvened in their homeland of Baltimore for their latest album Centipede Hz. Written in Josh Dibb’s family barn, their ninth long-player sees the musician returning to the fold after his last appearance on Strawberry Jam in 2007, and the band going back to a live sound after 2009’s sampler-based Merriweather Post Pavilion. The interim has seen their characteristic progressive experimentation continue with audio-visual effort ODDSAC and this year’s Transverse Temporal Gyrus, a melding of individual pieces of music performed by each member at a one-off performance in 2010.
Each Animal Collective release has been a step forward, not always in the direction their audience might necessarily expect, and with Centipede Hz they may just have hit a career high. Like the crawler of the title, these numbers are impossible to pin down, segmented and elusive. Arrangements jump all over the place in a record where a dazzling array of composite parts combine to make a whole. Trying to deconstruct it is like swimming into a shoal of fish that evades you and re-configures itself in one movement.
A vocal sample leads us into ‘Moonjock’ and its abrasive techno strokes. The vocals come in - layered, psychedelic, phased – while 8-bit chimes and distortion, skittering, bubbling synth and Anime-style sounds vie for attention in a richly-textured soundscape. As the song stops abruptly, various sound effects and samples unravel all over the place. This “radio segue” idea is carried through the record with songs connected by unsecured advertisements, voice snippets and various effects. It’s The Who Sell Out with added menace, but also in keeping with the Animal Collective Radio mixes that they stream from their website.
Single ‘Today’s Supernatural’ quite simply knocks the bollocks off any other release this year, with the singer machine-gunning the vocal line “Come on let-let-let-let-let-let-let-let-let go! / Erratic see-saw / That’s exploding your brain / It’s gonna throw me out again / and now I don’t feel the same” in a song that’s variously pounding, melodic and tribally percussive. ‘Rosie Oh’ begins simply; that doesn’t last long. The high pitched effects take over, like being in some sort of simulated jungle populated with a multitude of weird, wonderful and full-throated musical beasts. Delve beneath the adornment and there’s a devastatingly sweet, simple Beatles-y melody in there.
‘Applesauce’ revs up from its poppy refrain and moves through the gears, charging and relaxing as those 1′s and 0′s cascade down in the background. It is with the mid-album ‘Father Time’ that the kaleidoscopic cacophony recedes and the vocals emerge on top. This spills over into ‘New Town Burnout’, slowing things back a notch and throwing in a touch of darkness. Synthetic noises gently bombard the ear drums on ‘Monkey Riches’, popping from one ear to the other, while another of those sweet vocal melodies lies beneath the rich confection of ‘Mercury Man’.
Centipede Hz is an album in primary colours, an unpredictable beast where myriad sounds are layered and inter woven into something that reveals more and more with each listen. Volatile vocal u-turns appear and transform songs in a way no conventional record ever could, each twist bringing with it another sample, another effect, another noise collage to submerge in. Animal Collective have raised the bar – it’s difficult to imagine another release this year coming close in ambition or execution to this unique album.
Justin Mc Daid