The band that launched a million blog posts, everyone's favorite neo-psychedelic-folk-pop-rock band, that band that Avey Tare and Panda Bear play in, Animal Collective, released their latest album, Centipede Hz, about two weeks before its proper release via radio station - I wrote an opinion article about what the early stream meant last week. It shouldn't be a surprise that people ripped the stream, sorted the MP3s, and leaked webrips of the album. I refrained from downloading until a proper album rip was leaked, and it has been, obviously. So I have previewed the album a few times and this is what I have concluded: they still deserve every decible of buzz, but may be grounding out.
It pains me to say that I'm an Animal Collective fan - as soon as you admit it, you're grouped in with the "hipsters." They certainly are what most people consider the quintessential "hipster" band -- if you're wondering why "hipster" is always quoted, check out this article on Flatted Third. But it's not hard to be a fan of the enigmatic band; they've released solid, original material for about a decade now. With a track record including Sung Tongs, Feels, Strawberry Jam, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and Fall Be Kind, Animal Collective will be a band that continues to draw attention until the music begins to lack, which Centipede Hz may be the flag boy for. Fall Be Kind, the band's last proper release, followed the almost mainstream breakthrough of Merriweather Post Pavilion with slow, minimal, and effective, while Merriweather found a band adding as many instruments as could fit, certainly more electronics than earlier releases. This shift to what sounded like the electronic version of Campfire Songs left fans wondering where the AnCo would go next. Well, Centipede Hz continues to build of the progress of Merriweather, with poppier, maximized songs, but also features some meandering jams. This leaves Fall Be Kind as strictly an exercise and not a progression for later releases.
The return of Deakin, who sat out during both the recording and touring of Merriweather Post Pavilion, Centipede Hz creates some beautiful production, samples, and song bridges. Also, to much surprise, Deakin even sings lead on a track, the stomping "Wide Eyed", which ends with a Person Pitch-esque time shift at the end. Although the bridge from "New Town Burnout" to "Monkey Riches" is as beautiful as it is mechanical, making the track seem as though they are cut from the same clothe, "Wide Eyed" does nothing for the album. The Deakin cut lies in the middle of the record and just sort of stays at the same pace with random stops and starts, never really sounding interesting or beckoning multiple listens. Deakin's return is certainly a give and take, but it's always nice to reinforce the use of "collective" in the band's title.
The record begins with "Moonjock", a 7/4 romp that could have seen a spot on Merriweather. From there, the band jam packs instruments and melodies into the excellent single "Today's Supernatural", but this is where the album takes an interesting turn with "Rosie Oh". The song is collected and smooth, sounding like a dialed back "For Reverend Green". "Applesauce" is a trippy-go-happy Avey song that doesn't fail to deliver pop like you've never hear it before. The first four songs establish the head of Centipede Hz as an excellent effort.
"Wide Eyed", as mentioned before, lacks anything special, but the trio of "Father Time", "New Town Burnout" and "Monkey Riches" pick the album right back up. Even with the seventeen minute, three song recovery, the album dips again with "Mercury Man", a song with a weak beginning but extremely strong, bass-filled finish - it's not a bad song, but it could have been a lot shorter, as a lot of the other songs on Centipede Hz could be, and is a testament of poor album flow.
"Amanita" finishes off the album, named after a genus of mushrooms that offers some of the most deadly species. The song details a hiking trip that dips further and further into bright and colorful depths, until everything is washed away in delay, a fitting end for an album that is as dense as it is frustrating.
It's too bad "Honeycomb" or "Gotham" didn't make the cut because I really enjoyed those singles. The latter featured a sound commonly found on Feels, my personal favorite of the AnCo catalogue; it would have fit perfectly in the meat of Centipede Hz, easily able to replace Deakin's "Wide Eyed" or even the tail end's "Mercury Man". "Honeycomb" would have a much more difficult time fitting into the record, as it comes off as a standalone single.
It seems that when you strip away all the excess production and instruments, Centipede Hz is just solid, almost traditional songs in an inconsistent package. That isn't to say that it's a bad release, just something a fan wouldn't list as his or her favorite. This comes as a disappointment, to me at least, because I really enjoyed both Merriweather and Fall Be Kind for two completely different reasons. And I would have loved to have seen how those two sounds meshed. Oh well.
P.S. Check out this great interview by Stereogum with the band about the recording process, and watch the band's video for "Today's Supernatural" below: