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Album Review: Animal Collective - 'Centipede Hz'

5 September 2012 | 8:05 pm | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

Blissful incongruity

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Brain-melting psychedelic crew Animal Collective flirted with the mainstream on breakthrough album Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2009. Full of blissed-out melodies and ambient electronica, MPP’s infectious pop incline blew up on the blogosphere, garnered near universal praise from critics and earned the band a legion of new fans. It would have been easy for them to continue along this path for the follow up, but like the best experimental bands, Animal Collective are keeping fans on their toes by throwing an artistic curveball in the form of Centipede Hz.

Instead of Merriweather Post Pavilion part II, Animal Collective’s ninth album, Centipede Hz, is glitchy, sporadic and bristles with a raw energy, perhaps aided by the return of multi-instrumentalist/founding member Josh Dibb (a.k.a Deakin), who’d been absent from the lineup since 2007. The layered vocal harmonies and glossy beats of past releases take a back seat to live drums, shakers and an overall more organic sounding production this time around. From the distorted thump of opener `Moonjock’ and tongue-rolling vocal gymnastics of proggy freakout `Today’s Supernatural’, we’re presented with a different side to Animal Collective’s persona, one that prompts the listener to jitter uncontrollably instead of slouching over in a haze of ambience.

Given its restlessness and songs that bleed into one another via radio interference, Centipede Hz is not the most immediately accessible album (it definitely requires a few spins before you can wrap your head around what’s going on here). With ideas splattered Jackson Pollack-style into three to six minute bursts, some songs work better than others. `Applesauce’ bounces along with incongruous stream-of-consciousness lyrics like `I eat a mango and I’m feeling like a little honey can roll’, while glistening keys spiral `Wide Eyed’ forward in hypnotic motion. Elsewhere, an uplifting refrain is coupled with lurching synths and a rhythmic stumble of shakers, samples and drums on the epic `New Town Burnout’. It may sound like a mess in writing, but like an abstract painting, its various pieces gel together to form a coherent and pleasing whole.

While the album has its strong moments, there are times when AC’s song writing borders on a convoluted mess of sensory-overloading headfuckery. It’s not that there’s any filler per se, it’s more the case that certain songs could have been tidied up/reworked to slender down the 50 minute album into a more digestible package (notably the almost 7-minute `Monkey Riches’, which waffles on a little too long for comfort).

Like the creepy crawlies the album’s named after, the melodies on Centipede Hz burrow into your brain, their spurs latching deeper into your consciousness with every subsequent spin of the album. These are shape-shifting songs built around percussive movements, crammed full of various glitches, whistles and artificial squelches procured from laptops. You could easily label them `psychedelic’, but that would be lazy and undersell the amount of ideas this collective cram into each jagged little pop jingle.

1. Moonjock

2. Today’s Supernatural

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3. Rosie Oh

4. Applesauce

5. Wide Eyed

6. Father Time

7. New Town Burnout

8. Monkey Riches

9. Mercury Man

10. Pulleys

11. Amanita