There’s definitely an unnamed pressure, an expectation if you will, for a band with the batting average that Animal Collective has had for the last 10 years. What it must be like to produce a follow up to the perfect wisking of sugar-crack melodies and fuzziness that was 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavillion. Long time fans know whatever happens from the Collective will never be the Direct-to-DVD sequel that is often the expectation of the follow-up but it doesn’t make the acceptance of the new direction any less of a expectation. Thankfully some bands do whatever they damn well please.
On their 9th studio album Centipede Hz, Animal Collective take some distance from the Panda Bear-heavy hooks–the kind of immediate infatuation that brought “My Girls” to the coffee shop playlists–but returns with the quartet playing more angular songs. Animal Collective have always been a band that respectfully ignores fan’s expectations and wants, rather opting for what entertains their own curiosity. The sounds here are murkier, each song segways into the other with low-fi radio pieces, the connective tissue as ribbons of oscillations through every corner of the album.
“We like to imagine what an alien band might sounds like, especially if they were catching snippets and phrases of radio frequencies off the earth,” Panda Bear told Pitchfork.
The album opening “Moonjock” follows Avey Tare through a recounting of a childhood road trip, listening to his headphones in the back of a station wagon, singing us into the beginning of a journey the way we fondly looks at unpleasant teenage outings with the family (“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”)
It starts with analog radio signals, tuning in and out until cymbals crash open the track, a change from previous production. On Merriweather Post Pavillion AC went to length to mask the traditional instruments with a soccer riot’s worth of effects, daring you to guess what was a synth and what was at one time a drum or bass line. And that process worked by focusing the listen on the music and not distract with mental images of men doing guitar wanks.
In a natural evolution of their sound, almost every track here shows the band in instrumental form–unheard since the Freak Folk Feels. Bits of keyboards peek through (“AppleSauce”), basses bounce (“Rosie Oh”), and drums–those drums–they’re the organic war march that fuels Centipede.
“New Town Burnout” longs for feelings of comfort (“When I make it/Back home/I’ll take my shoes off/I’ll take my coat off/I’ll leave my belongings alone”). “Monkey Riches” debates the merits of nostalgia (“But why am I still looking for a golden age?/You tell me that I ought to have a golden wage”) and life goals (“Every time I look up at that blurry sun/All I think about are bodies floating up”). Deakin returns, and like a good friend that hasn’t been seen in awhile, he startles at first, taking lead vocals on “Wide Eyed”, but feels right at home.
Animal Collective is an amorphous blob of audio turning into whatever they feel like they are at any given time. Band members come and go and their sounds change but never does the quality suffer. Centipede Hz may be an alien inspiration but there couldn’t be anything more human than these earthbound four.