Music review: Animal Collective’s ‘Centipede Hz’
By Aaron Leitko,
In 2009, Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion” helped the whole world chill out a little. On its eighth album, the Baltimore-bred weirdo-pop band became an unlikely crossover act by saddling its squelchy neo-psychedelic folk music to a groovier back beat. They ditched guitars for samplers and beefed up their a’capella club-goes-jam-band vocal hooks with a healthy dose of bottom end. And even if you never bothered to listened to “Merriweather,” you probably heard it via its imprint on bands like Yeasayer, El Guincho, and MGMT, who coated their subsequent records with a similar verneer of new age gobbledegook.
Three years later, Animal Collective has delivered the long-awaited follow-up, “Centipede Hz.” These days, they aren’t feeling quite so mellow. “This is the new,” intones a radio announcer’s voice in the records opening moments, followed by a warbly countdown. And then: Crash, crash, crash, crash.
“Centipede Hz” finds the band getting back to its louder, spazzier roots. The quartet has cycled back toward the jittery sound collages and sugar-rush melodies that defined “Strawberry Jam” and “Feels.” Songs pinball around the stereo field like a toddler high on Lucky Charms and “Sponge Bob” DVDs.
Between Animal Collective’s two central vocalists, Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox) has always been a little easier on the ears. When the Beach Boys comparisons get lobbed at the band, they’re generally targeted at him. But on “Centipede Hz,” most of Lennox’s contributions come from behind the drum kit. Instead, Avey Tare (aka David Portner), the shouty guy, gets the majority of the star time. Portner’s vocals have always been a little abrasive, and with nine out of 12 songs, he’s overrepresented on “Centipede Hz.” Even the reedy voice of Deakin (Josh Dibb), the band’s recently returned fourth member, who performs a single song, “Wide Eyed,” is a welcome breather.
When Animal Collective wrote “Merriweather Post Pavilion” the members were spread out over the globe —between Brooklyn, D.C., and Lisbon, Portugal — so, song ideas were developed by passing demos back and forth over the Internet. For the sessions leading up to “Centipede Hz,” the quartet convened in Baltimore. As a result, there’s a noticeable uptick in energy, especially in the straightforward pounding that drives the opening cuts, “Moonjock” and “Today’s Supernatural.”
But “Centipede Hz” doesn’t sound like a band playing in a room. It sounds like a band blaring over drive-time radio at the Mos Eisley Cantina. It’s lush and brittle at the same time — industrial music made with an instrumental palate borrowed from Balearic techno. The nooks and crannies of each song are packed with incidental buzzes, squawks, and burbles that blink in and out like strobe lights. This is nothing new for Animal Collective, but it was easier to absorb when the band was writing softer tunes. Here the yowled vocals, the clattering percussion, and audio graffiti pile up in a way that’s a little too dense to take through headphones. If “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was the long comfy nap on indie-rock’s waterbed, “Centipede Hz” is a blast from the psychedelic fire hose.
Animal Collective will perform at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Oct. 2