Animal Collective – Centipede Hz

On Animal Collective’s latest long-player, things don’t always go as planned – then again, would we really want them to? writes TIM KLINGBIEL.

It was no coincidence that the first recording that brought commercial success for Animal Collective, 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, was also the first that saw them shed much of their extraneous sonic cacophony and straight-out weirdness to embrace a more instant pop style. It wasn’t as if they completely abandoned their identity, but their sound was certainly given a palatable and, for many, a welcome makeover. Following up a breakout record is never an easy task, and on the band’s latest long-player, Centipede Hz, things don’t always go as planned – then again, would we really want them to?

As the oddball yelps, dense sampling and kaleidoscopic “at the fairground on DMT” melange of sounds roll around on opener ‘Moonjock’, it’s instantly clear the band are back in touch with their roots. Whether or not that involves three day odysseys of spiritual discovery in the woods or ritualistic sacrifices to Mesopotamian deities is a question best left for another time, but this is certainly not music likely to gain the airplay or notoriety of ‘My Girls’. But in the same way as MPP didn’t completely abandon the band’s past, Centipede Hz doesn’t completely depart from their pop direction either. The balance has just shifted back slightly.

Beneath the thick layers of sound, sometimes so intense it would send a synaesthete into shock, are a bunch of catchy, well-written songs. The borderline-gospel of ‘Rosie Oh’, the euphoric cosmic gallop of ‘Applesauce’, the epic ‘New Town Burnout’ and the dub-inspired ‘Mercury Man’ all seem as if they were written on another planet at some point in the distant future. But the lyrics are often paradoxically imbued with a sense of primitiveness and even Americana.

“To experience the record in small doses would be to completely decontextualise it.”

Which brings us to perhaps the band’s most underrated attribute – their lyrics. Equally capable of evoking imagery of futuristic spaceland jungles or wide highways and vast plains, the songs of Centipede Hz, and to an extent the Animal Collective discography, are often bound together by a uniting undercurrent of the importance of family and tranquillity. The opening verse of the entire record is perhaps the finest synthesis of these ideals: “In our covered wagon times when Dad he had his captain eyes/We’d get the steel horse moving on the straights and lines of 95/And Mom she was our singer and we kept alive on greasy fries/I held onto my stash of jams that ran along in Michelin time.”

In expressing these sentiments, the band show themselves as fine voices for their generation. While almost inconceivably rich layers of sound surge with an incessant propulsion, the loudest voice is that of a wistful nostalgia for a time of traditionalist simplicity that perhaps never was. By the time the “what have we done, fantasy is falling down” of closer ‘Amanita’ comes around, one can’t help but feel their despair.

Experiencing the record’s sheer sonic density for an hour leaves one with a feeling similar to staring at the sun for too long, or enduring a post-rave ket comedown. But by the same token, to experience the record in small doses would be to completely decontextualise it, such is the importance of the “journey”. It thus stands as an album of paradoxes; something of a square peg in the round hole of contemporary pop.