By John Dickinson
Before their ascension to the throne of contemporary experimental music, it wasn’t uncommon for Animal Collective to be written off as a novelty act. The Baltimore-based quartet has released nine albums over the span of their thirteen-year career, but only recently have albums Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion marked a step towards cohesion, garnering critical acclaim for the group and solidifying their place in avant-garde music.
Animal Collective’s most recent effort, Centipede Hz, continues this trend of organized chaos without fully embracing the accessibility achieved by Merriweather. The record relies heavily on live instrumentation to complement the sample-based sounds consistent with the group’s previous works. Soaring harmonies between Avey Tare and Panda Bear in the opening track “Moonjock” call to mind pop-inspired melodies, while pulsing drums and spastic changes in time signature keep true to the group’s infamous brand of auditory chaos. The eerie guitar riffs found on “Rosie Oh” and layers of hypnotic synthesizers on “New Town Burnout” speak to the veracity of the band’s creative pallet, making known the presence of baritone guitarist Deakin, and of multi-instrumentalist frontman Tare. These fresh components help maintain the structure of the album and make up for the monotonous and reticent tracks like “Father Time” and “Wide Eyed”.
Many of the patchy electronic elements found on Centipede Hz can be credited to multi-instrumentalist Geologist. Proof of Geologist’s years hosting a college radio show have surfaced with the release of Centipede Hz, which incorporates components of the abstract genre known as musique concrète. The group utilizes radio IDs and white noise to create flawless segways from one song to another, giving the album a thematic overtone and a natural flow in succession. The result of this is an album 55 minutes in running length – the group’s longest since their debut full length, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, and a fresh take on the band’s ever-alluring sound.
The album’s first single, “Today’s Supernatural,” provides an anthemic sound backed by the menacing tribal percussion of Panda Bear, as well as a cleverly arpeggiated synth performed by Tare. The words behind Centipede Hz are shrouded with imagery consistent with an acid trip and are open to much interpretation, as is the case with most of the group’s lyrics. Avey Tare’s frenetic yelps and Panda Bear’s haunting delivery provide caustic social commentary and cryptic poetry around every turn.
One of the more pervasive lyrical themes on the album is “We are getting old.” In “Moonjock,” a song marked with a somber overtone of nostalgia, Tare reminisces a 1980′s road trip with his family, comparing it to a pilgrimage from the days of covered wagons. Other tracks like “Monkey Riches” explore the same territory: “But why am I still looking for a golden age? You tell me that I ought to have a golden wage.”
An identical tone is found in “Applesauce,” in which Tare ponders life and death through the symbolism of both ripe and rotting fruits. Don’t worry though, the album isn’t one giant mid-life crisis; the final song on the record, “Amanita,” explores the benefits of tripping on the psychoactive mushroom Amanita Muscaria.
At the end of the day, the group stays true to their name; each member’s individual contribution is essential to the progression of the album and effectively, to the group as a whole—a true collective. The album proves to be one of lasting value and artistic growth for Animal Collective, and will be sure to please returning listeners. Fans of Strawberry Jam and Fall Be Kind will have no trouble setting into the mood of the album, while new listeners may need to acquire a taste for Centipede Hz.
Check out all the lyrics and explanations for Centipede Hz on Stereo IQ:
Animal Collective – Amanita Lyrics
Animal Collective – Applesauce Lyrics
Animal Collective – Father Time Lyrics
Animal Collective – Mercury Man Lyrics
Animal Collective – Monkey Riches Lyrics
Animal Collective – Moonjock Lyrics
Animal Collective – New Torn Burnout Lyrics
Animal Collective – Pulleys Lyrics
Animal Collective – Rosie Oh Lyrics
Animal Collective – Today’s Supernatural Lyrics
Animal Collective – Wide Eyed Lyrics