Review: Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
Published on September 10th, 2012 | Theo Gorst
…on which Animal Collective revert back to the overwhelming bombardment of ideas that characterised their output pre-Merriweather Post Pavilion…and then some.
Centipede Hz is far more in line with the berserk, sunny tangentialism of 2005 LP Feels and 2007’s Strawberry Jam than Merriweather…‘s more luxuriant swarms of nocturnal electronics, and although it can be hard to keep up with it rewards repeated listens by dint of both the quantity and quality of its relentlessly original hooks.
Synths gurgle and boil over in time-honoured Animal Collective fashion on syncopatedly pounding, complexly laid-out opener “Moonjock”, the elated harmonies of which spout a kind of homespun acid lyricism that reminds of Holland-era Beach Boys. By the time they’re chanting “And then we ran out again and then we ran out again / We ran it out, ran it out” it’s as if a madman is trying to rouse us to join him on his lunatic quest, which is immediately imbued with danger when it all ends with a round of alien synth sirens. At this point, we have little choice but to follow him or be obliterated.
The initial signs are not encouraging, at least from a ‘sound leadership’ point of view. Musically, however, the ensuing “Today’s Supernatural” is exhilarating: the usual otherworldly vocal phrasings, the ceaselessly satisfying maximalism of the mix, the sheer concentration of distractedness that leads us from section to section, hook to hook, scenery to scenery…well, if you can handle the pace then you’re in for a wild, hallucinatory ride. “Sometimes you’ve gotta go get mad” sings Avey Tare in that mad rasping way of his, and sometimes you’ve got to introduce a huffing accordion by barking “let let let let let let go!” mantra-like at the purple daytime moon overhead. “Today’s Supernatural” does all of that.
Panda Bear’s “Rosie Oh” wields steel drums, an almost ska-like groove and what sounds like vocal imitations of phones ringing, its lyrics suitably depicting some kind of lysergic odyssey, paving the way for “Applesauce” to sound a wee bit as if “Who Could Win a Rabbit” from 2004’s meditative masterstroke Sung Tongs had been re-imagined for Merriweather Post Pavilion. “I eat a mango and I’m feeling like a little honey can roll / Star fruit so simple and I’m feeling like a little honey can roll” sings Tare, confirming Rocksucker’s impression of the song as a fruity descendant of The Beach Boys’ “Vegetables” with “When I want fruit I can find it wherever I please / What if I should wake up and find dudes on the street waiting in lines or scrounging for berries?”.
Returning member Deakin chips in with the remarkable “Wide Eyed”, his vocal bestriding the wibbly wobbly rhythm section and spurts of feltily filtered synth like a wide open plane of spiritual freedom, or something, and the whole thing ends with samples of laughter and what sounds, somewhat appropriately, like a radio jingle. The Who Sell Out for the 21st century, anyone?
“Father Time” may be the calmest, steadiest track thus far, and by some distance, but its shimmering space sounds, probing bass and pitch-lowered voices still drip with alien loveliness/lovely alien-ness while the lyrics continue to paint a baffling yet compelling picture with “Colors and all the places you went to you don’t get what they offer and hey / That’s Nathan but didn’t he pass a long time ago? / Where’d he go?”
Panda Bear’s “New Town Burnout” has a strange, slow, rolling gait, one encrusted with glowing synth jewels and illuminated by Animal Collective’s ever-present knack for weaving sophisticated pop melodies through the nuttiness that they create. If Liars reworked one of The Shins‘ more nocturnal and cavernous numbers then it might sound something like this, and it then forges a Super Furry Animals-esque wilderness of bonkers, clucking electronic loops that form the basis of “Monkey Riches”, a paranoid acid rave on the Savannah over which Avey intones Carl Wilson-ily “I don’t want that Tylenol” and the curiously Foo Fighters-evoking “It makes a monkey wretch / It makes a monkey rich”.
As if all of that wouldn’t constitute quite enough sensory excitement for one day, the skittering dub wizardry of “Mercury Man” leads enchanting twinkledom into whirring sci-fi synthery and an ominously swooshing, Bowser’s Castle-esque minor-to-major-key motif, if that makes any sense whatsoever. Truly the madman has got us all terribly lost, but at the aspersions he casts are beautiful: “Sounds like machines talking to me on the phone / I say but they don’t quite get me / It’s hard to make my feelings known / Sometimes I wish for a long wave / When I’m waiting for someone to calm my tone / Bad vibes I’ve got hold dementia / When I’m one thousand Hz from home / Sometimes I wish for a short wave home”. “Sounds like machines talking”, indeed.
“Pulleys” is another more Merriweather-y number, a clapping swagger through a dark tunnel with a palpable shaft of light gleaming forth invitingly from the distance (“Tunnels and caves are magnificent places to escape you’ll go / Escape you’ll go / Tunnels and caves / We’re here to help you art thou feeling low?”), and then closing track “Amanita” furthers the end-of-album burrowing underground with Tare and Bear singing in unison as some fast percussion low in the mix mimics the sound of a cartoon character gearing up to run. This then becomes a pounding, reverb-drenched electro-mantra that disappears into madly accelerating synths which slow to a halt, thus bringing this whole crazy adventure to an end.
Several listens in, we at Rocksucker are yet to fully wrap our head around this one but it’s nevertheless pleasing to hear Animal Collective continuing to piece together intricate, highly-evolved pop music as daft, busy, multi-faceted and intense as this modern ol’ planet of ours. Fans accrued by Merriweather… may have been thrown a real curve ball here but in any case this is the music you’d want to present to a visiting alien race rather than Matchbox Twenty or whichever institution of vacuousness might be elected in such a scenario. They may more accurately reflect the broader tastes of an oppressed civilisation, but Animal Collective explore – and in some cases mangle – the very essence of life on Earth. Accuse Rocksucker of musical snobbery all you like, but that is the definition of artistic value for us.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!