Animal Collective Introduces New Sound on New Album
With ever-evolving bands like Animal Collective, stylistic change is seen as a given. After moving from the freak-folk of Here Comes the Indian and Feels to the experimental electronic pop of Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective has proven time and time again that the group is ready and willing to innovate and move forward. The new album Centipede Hz still feels like an exciting, powerful jump for the group, but it may not be a large enough jump forward to satisfy rabid fans.
Sonically, the album may be an embodiment of all of the group’s work thus far. “Moonjock” launches the record with a rush of exhilarating percussion that quickly evolves into pounding synthesizers and guitars, while “Rosie Oh,” one of the album’s standout tracks, harkens back to the band’s freak-folk past and features fascinating guitars that jangle across the eardrums to back vocalist Panda Bear. “Applesauce” uses a spacey piano loop and main vocalist Avey Tare’s bubbling voice to create a catchy, if not mystifying, sound that evokes the 2007 album Strawberry Jam.
“Wide Eyed,” a Deakin-helmed track, is another highlight that uses lush psychedelic production to mirror the vocalist’s echoing, nearly droning voice. “New Town Burnout,” the second of the two Panda Bear-led tracks, is a throwback to the last album and builds layers of synthesizers and pulsating percussion to highlight Panda Bear’s voice but still create a rich, full texture. “Mercury Man” layers Tare’s voice to create captivating space-age harmonies. “Pulleys” creates frantic rhythms out of instrumentals and percussion that intertwine throughout the track. “Amanita,” the album closer, uses intense, charging percussion to throw Avey Tare’s low-tempo voice forward.
Centipede Hz flows nearly seamlessly, with each track channeling that classic Animal Collective sound while still remaining unique. However, not every track is sonically engaging. “Today’s Supernatural” is, at times, excessively frantic, and Tare’s voice—a near shout here—is overly grating to the point where the song is almost an exhausting listen. It’s exciting, yes, but it lacks the texturing that makes the rest of the album so powerful. It may be the only track that doesn’t totally stand out, but it still brings the album slightly downward. It feels a bit disruptive, even if it is only the second track.
But the members of Animal Collective aren’t anything if not uniquely creative songwriters, and lyrically, the album features some of their strongest and most experimental songwriting. Most fascinating is the contrast between the experimental, complex production and the emotionally relatable imagery found in the lyrics. This is not to say that the lyrics aren’t profound, but they find roots in nostalgia, exploration, and insecurity rather than mirroring the experimental psychedelia that the album focuses on sonically. Lyrics like “Why all these doubts/What are all these doubts/See in her eyes that I’m holding her fine but all I’m hearing is doubts,” off of “Wide Eyed,” exemplify what has made Animal Collective such a fascinating band from the start. The songwriting, while surrounded by otherworldly production, lies in reality, which creates a fascinating and chilling dichotomy.
Centipede Hz is certainly a victim of its own hype. After Merriweather Post Pavilion, listeners likely expected a fresh new direction. Centipede Hz is a fascinating beast in that it is, upon first listen, difficult to tell how the band has evolved. It is easy to judge the album based on the band’s past work, but to do that ignores the quality inherent in the album itself. These songs reward repeat listening to explore the sonic nooks and crannies that Animal Collective has created. Songs like “Monkey Riches” and “Father Time” take multiple listens to discover all that the band hides within the songs; production that can make these songs truly stellar can often be hidden deep in the mix.
In the end, Centipede Hz is still a triumph and probably one of the year’s best albums so far. There are moments of sheer beauty, like “Rosie Oh” and “Wide Eyed,” that could be placed among Animal Collective’s best work. While it may not be heralded as the instant classic that Merriweather Post Pavilion was, time will certainly help this album build the following that it deserves.