From a big-picture view, Animal Collective‘s career is a steady evolution of style and color — the immediately accessible pop melodies of Merriweather Post Pavilion emerge from the experimental structures and sounds of early efforts such as Here Comes The Indian and Sung Tongs. The transformation would have been difficult to predict at the time, but almost feels inevitable in hindsight. And because there’s so much to appreciate in these long-term mutations, Merriweather Post Pavillion didn’t just add another stellar album to Animal Collective’s discography, its release also gave an extra level of credence and importance to the previous LPs, revealing their role in a larger, more impressive body of work. Centipede Hz is the latest iteration of Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Geologist and Deakin coming together to craft a record, and while its 11 tracks are each rich and rewarding, more importantly, Centipede Hz succeeds in amplifying the entire Animal Collective discography with an installment that never feels like submission to the expected.
The large-scale, discography-wide view may be impressive, but on the opposite end of the spectrum each individual second of Centipede Hz packs in so many bleeps and effects that it takes on a seemingly infinite complexity. If I could chop the record down into half-second chunks, some fragments would probably be indistinguishable from early Aphex Twin or Autechre albums. Of course, the vocals and stretched out melodies make Centipede Hz a distinctly Animal Collective release, but take one of the album’s highlights, “Monkey Riches,” as a testament to the micro-scale intricacy. Focus in on the 2:00 mark, midway through the first chorus, and you’ll find a forest of electronic pulses that push, pull and bounce between the listener’s headphones as Avey Tare cuts through the waves with urgent and emotive vocals that recall his work on Feels. Although the arrangements may feel disorienting at first, the dense soundscape falls into place after multiple listens — a testament to producer Ben Allen’s ear for the importance of each constituent part.
And it’s far more than just the arrangement and layering of the pieces, each sound has a kick, release and timbre that feels hand-crafted to both stand alone and fit within the overall composition. On “Wide Eyed” various synths and bongos flutter, spiral, and change pitch — all within the span of a second. Deakin makes his lead vocal debut on the track and complements the swinging instrumentation with quizzical lyrics that gradually unfold throughout the piece. Avey Tare handles most of the vocals throughout Centipede Hz and like previous albums he pens songs that are engaging but probably won’t get stuck in the listener’s head afterwards — it’s a curious balance that makes the album more addicting and repeat plays all the more compulsive.
I’m almost certain that every review of Merriweather Post Pavilion used the word “accessible” at some point in the article. Centipede Hz is a notably more challenging listen and Avey Tare indirectly urges his audience to work for the reward on “Amanita”: “I have to travel so far just to hear his sound/ but I’m going hiking, Are you coming hiking?” “Amanita” has a fair share of vista points throughout its trek: tribal rhythms drive the song forward, eastern horns pick up the momentum at the halfway point, and Avey Tare ends the song with harmonized “Oh, oh oh oooh”s. It’s the second time in a row that Animal Collective have saved their most colorful arrangement for last and it works just as well this time around.
Panda Bear makes two vocal appearances on Centipede Hz: “Rosie Oh” and “New Town Burnout,” the latter of which was a gestating idea left over from Tomboy, according to a recent Pitchfork interview. The track maintains the high standards found on his solo work while also working to eschew any notions that he’s the “monotone” vocalist of the group. “Rosie Oh” also features an impressive singing range with harmonized sessions that serve as an even more tripped-out, psychedelic version of late ’60s Beach Boys.
On Merriweather Post Pavilion, Avey Tare sings, “Am I really all the things that are outside of me?” The question could easily apply to the mysteries of life or the subtleties of the artistic process. On “Applesauce,” Avey is still mindful of the puzzle, but now sings, “ripe and old, move outside us.” After eight full length studio albums, Animal Collective’s sound can be described as nothing other than ripe. Everything they do just feels right; the group has reached a point of maturity where they care just as much about any two-second span as they do any two-minute one. Centipede Hz is about “moving outside us” rather than becoming the “things that are outside.”