"Sometimes it won't come so easy / Sometimes you gotta go get mad"
Some bands are marked by clearly defined revolutions in sound. Radiohead have a clear revolution with Kid A, abandoning epic guitar anthems for claustrophobic delightfulness. Animal Collective have always marked their new releases with clear evolutions in sound, which is no doubt why those of us who jumped on the AC train with Merriweather Post Pavilion found a treasure trove of bountiful goodies to sate even the most diverse of listening tastes. Herein lay a problem, however. It seemed that Merriweather Post Pavilion was the culmination of every previous album. This band that had become champions of multiple genres, straight up folk, space-folk, noise rock, psychedelic folk, and experimental dance psychedelia, for starters.
So now we have Centipede Hz, an album that speeds along at 3,000 miles-per-hour, on a rocket-ship made out of radio static, eagles, lizards and an unapologetic sense of purposefulness, whilst still coming across as something which could quite simply be classed as indie-rock. Here, all four members of Animal Collective are once again together. Deakin, absent from the last album, is back, along with Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist. Where the last few albums from Animal Collective have been born primarily from distance, with band members sending each other samples and demo recordings via email, Centipede Hz promised to be more personal, with the band meeting up in their native Baltimore to hash out some tunes in a much more intimate, and conventional, setting.
No matter how much this album sweeps you away, there is something not quite right. The kicker here is that although we're promised intimacy, and 'collectiveness' in a way we'd never really had since Sung Tongs, but everything comes across as a a bit forced, doing away with the natural feelings we're used to expect from this band.
Don't get me wrong, this album succeeds because the majority of songs themselves are stellar. From 'Moonjock's crunch of an opening refrain, to 'Amanita's whirlwind of a second half, these are songs which on their own will be on 'Best Of' mixtapes across the country this year, for sure. 'Rosie Oh' sends Panda Bear on a journey across this bizarre world Animal Collective have been sending us to for the past decade, with Panda's distinct vocals buoying along in a familiar, and cosy, way. 'Applesauce' is Avey Tare at his eclectic best, singing songs about Pink Lady apples, and Granny Smiths, with each member of the band complimenting each other as synths whirl and explode at the end. The one-two punch of 'New Town Burnout' and 'Monkey Riches' is incredible. 'New Town Burnout' strips back all sound, dropping (that's right, 'dropping') a drum beat which is soon accompanied by a dancing string line which Panda Bear's beautiful Beach Boy-esque vocals sit atop perfectly. 'Monkey Riches' then picks up from the song's end as the ashes morph into a phoenix guided by Geologist rocking some pitch perfect sampling, as Avey Tare gives his performance of the album in charge of vocal duties. We then dive into 'Mercury Man', a song which you can't help but wish you could hear more of the synths on, seemingly lost behind the percussion and the vocals, although I'll be the first to admit that this was one of the first songs I was singing along to after several listens. The album closers of 'Pulleys' and 'Amanita' work really well, and round off the album to good effect. 'Pulleys' slows the pace down a fair bit, with a repeated piano line entwined by tribal percussion, and brings us back down to earth for the closer 'Amanita'. A special mention has to go to 'Amanita', an album highlight along with 'New Town Burnout'. Starting with a rather exotic, and unexpected opening of foreign sounds and distorted vocals, with a chorus which stops and starts, before long we realise we're back with a band completely on top of their game. As the album closes, you completely forget all that confused you about the album, and you'd be hard pushed to find anyone who doesn't have a smile on their face as the album concludes in a mesh of harmonised vocals, energetic percussion, and a persistent thumping of bass notes.
After numerous listens, one of the most magical aspects of the album comes from Avey Tare's vocals. Avey himself seems to be channeling Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, his and Panda Bear's first album together, in terms of the vocal melodies, and refreshingly zesty lyrics. However, those who have seen the band live will have noticed a slight change in the band. Big news, there seems to be a lot more sitting down, as Panda and Avey both park at their respective instruments for most of the duration of live concerts. Certainly, when compared to previous albums, the vibes given off here are a lot more laid back, and perhaps not as edgy or experimental. It certainly feels here like a lot of the songs on Centipede Hz 'have' to be performed in a certain way every time, which is a shame. Previous albums had a certain uneasy quality to them, which lends itself to a band which thrive on experimental sounds, challenging you to invest, and believe, in them.
The scope at times seems to be both dizzying and somewhat ill-defined. For sure, this album is like nothing the band have ever attempted before. Critics will no doubt say it is a rehash of their past ideas. Ever since Danse Manatee, Animal Collective have built upon their previous work and expanded their horizons at every junction. What do you do after producing something like Merriweather Post Pavilion? Do you try to imitate past success, or do you do what you've done every time before, pick up your sticks off the floor and build something new, without giving two craps about what 'direction' you're going in? Certainly you have to wonder about what the next step is going to be for a band that never seeks to sit comfortably for too long. I'm now going to quote the closing lyrics from this album, the same lyrics you'll see in nearly every other Centipede Hz review, from 'Amanita', "I'm gonna come back and things will be different / I'm gonna bring back some stories and games." You know what? Every time they come back with something new, it's the one thing that's remained constant about the band since its inception; you can be sure as hell there will be some stories and games, but what they'll be about is anyone's guess. With Centipede Hz, it's not just the case that they've done it again, it's that they've been doing it since the turn of the century, and no-one's going to stop them having fun anytime soon.