Animal Collective, 'Centipede Hz'
By Heather Wible
September 4, 2012
Heather Wible lives in sunny Cleveland, Ohio, where she spends her days eating, drinking and being merry. She can also be found from time to time on stage with the Erie Philharmonic or behind the bar at Starbucks, handcrafting perfect beverages.
Three years after their last full-length release, Animal Collective’s four high school friends are back with their spaciest album yet. Centipede Hz is an 11-song trip through alien radio waves, citing inspiration from tapes of old radio identifications and the cantina band in Star Wars. From the very initial sounds of the album’s opening track, “Moonjock,” even from the name of the track itself, the sense of the otherworldly is obvious. Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox (so named for his proclivity for drawing figures of the bamboo-eating mammal as a child) in an interview with MTV’s Hive speaks of the album as “like we’re these aliens that are hearing snippets of radio frequencies coming out from the earth, maybe never getting a full song. It’s just pieces of different music from all over the globe.” The international extraterrestrial feel continues as the first track flows attacca into the first single from the album “Today’s Supernatural” which has the feel of a techno Mexican hat dance in outer space.
For many of the songs, lyrics take a back seat to the cacophony of industrial sounds, clicks, snaps and whistles. Even the few lyrics I could pick up were still related to the alien nature of the album like “sounds like machines talking to me on the phone” from “Mercury Man.” Despite this interstellar inspiration, the album is very dense. Each song has multiple layers of activity slathered one on top of the other. It could be called thoughtful noise, as it can almost spin one into a sensory overload. I found my first listen through the album to be almost offensive, but once I put on my headphones, I found myself able to process the layers more easily. The album and the group’s sound is almost sonic chaos theory – at first glance it seems random and without order, but upon closer examination, there is actually a beautiful and intriguing underlying order. Brian “Geologist” Weitz sums up the album with “scrambled radio frequencies.” The group’s last release Merriweather Post Pavilion had moments of drone or slowing, but there is no hint of let down on Centipede Hz. It is high-energy start to finish. While it doesn’t lend itself well to background music, a passive listen through as a motivational soundtrack—say while you’re cooking, running or cleaning —can be very appropriate and affective. I would, however, shy away from including it in your study session rotation.
All four members of Animal Collective gathered in their hometown of Baltimore, Md. at Josh “Deakin” Dibb’s mother’s house for three months straight of writing and compiling before heading to Texas to record the album. Perhaps its this supercharged three-month period of creativity, the joy of four old friends being reunited after living in separate places for several years, or the general spiritual environment of the house where the writing happened, as Deakin’s mother runs a spiritual community in Maryland. Her house and its hexagonal room was also used as one of the sites for the filming of the band’s 2010 “visual album” ODDSAC —the making of which led to the band being called Satanists. They’ve actually been called Satanists a couple of times, also weirdos and freaks. The band doesn’t seem to mind, though. Unofficial band leader Dave “Avey Tare” Portner takes it all in stride saying “…it’s just the nature of some of our fans getting super into it.”
In general the boys of Animal Collective are good-natured, humble men who like making music together, especially music with found sounds, yelps, beeps & bloops. Deakin describes the band dynamic as “a true democracy with a shifting kind of control.” Each of the members does a little bit of everything – songwriting, playing several instruments and being a part of the production process. It doesn’t seem like four leaders would make for a very cohesive album, but in fact Centipede Hz is a brilliant opus with that intergalactic theme woven throughout it in lyric & sound and many tracks leading into each other without breaks. This is not a collection of singles but an actual crafted album. It’s really very impressive, and it’s got a pretty great beat behind it. But it’s not terribly accessible. Don’t expect four-chord, hook-driven tunes that will get stuck in your head. If you like previous Animal Collective albums, The Flaming Lips or Vampire Weekend (if they went to art school instead of Ivy League) you’ll appreciate this album.