Animal Collective - Centipede Hz
(Domino Records )
By: Red On Black
Trying to review the new Animal Collective album Centipede Hz without reference to its generation defining predecessor Merriweather Post Pavilion is nigh on impossible. The phrase “chalk and cheese” doesn’t come close. Having listened to this album streamed over the AC ‘Centipede Radio’ for the past five days is akin to one of those horrible change curves that management theorists can get very excited about.
You start off in a mild state of shock. What the hell is this noise? Why are we being bombarded by all these tinny frequencies? Where is the presence of any low end bass on the album and where is “My Girls 2”? The next stage is anger and depression. Come on Panda Bear and Avey Tare, you surely can do better than this? Everything about MPP was borderline perfection. It was like Brian Wilson had really finished Smile but went to Berlin, had it produced by Kraftwerk, bumped into Spiritualized on the way and pinched some unreleased tapes from Super Furry Animals and asked Eno to mix. Where are the big production values, the experimental dance music, the shimmering, bell-like tones strung out and stretched against a backdrop of huge micro-beats and, most of all, the massive sense of fun with ‘Daily Routine’ staking a claim for the indie national anthem of the noughties?
Then suddenly integration and acceptance slopes in. Centipede Hz creeps up on you like a stealth bomber. A hand grenade is taken to the expansive MPP sound and instead garage/pop-rock is the order of the day with certain songs screaming for your attention in the same way ‘For Reverend Green’ from Strawberry Jam burrowed up your musical drainpipe. The opener ‘Moonjock’ starts with industrial drumming until the hugely recognisable vocals of Tare and Lennox creep in and all of a sudden so do some lovely melodies, albeit amidst a bewildering cacophony of sound.
Possibly the one potential ‘hit’ on the album is ‘Todays Supernatural’, which actually sounds like a Phoenix song and is excellent. It is followed by the brilliantly quirky ‘Rosie Oh’ full of Syd Barrett influences and is again a ridiculously infectious pop song that repays repeated listens. When it comes to ’Applesauce’ it contains more parts than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and if the production values had been boasted and made bigger it could have happily fitted on MPP. The song ‘Wide Eyed’ marks the return to the group of Josh `Deakin’ Dibb although it’s one of those songs easier to admire than love. It could however be a grower.
The spirit of Van Dyke Parks haunts ‘Father Time’ but again this is not a great song. Much better by far is the chilly anthem ‘New Town Burnout’, which clicks along with a great Tare vocal and strong hooks. The challenging ‘Monkey Riches’ has so much going on it’s difficult to find a decent starting part. One thing for certain is that no other group is trying this hard to be boundary spanners and open new doors. Indeed ‘Mercury Man’ appears to achieve the feat of being completely obtuse and maddeningly catchy at the same time, while to these ears the bubbly ‘Pulleys’ could well be one of the albums standout tracks. The whole thing is rounded off by ‘Aminata’. Full of weird squeaks, bursts of percussion and a lifting melody it struggles to get out until around four minutes when it sounds like a Cossack dance on ecstasy.
Health Warning – if you hated Merriweather Post Pavilion do not touch Centipede Hz with a one-mile-long bargepole. The words ‘kings new clothes’ will be used with rapier like incision and your beloved reviewer cursed into Hades deepest pit. Alternatively, if you loved Strawberry Jam this may intrigue and eventually carve out a warm place in your affections. By any objective definition this is an album that stands in a giant shadow cast by its predecessor, which inevitably steals some of its light, but did anyone really expect or desire a similar follow up?
Animal Collective, alongside Grizzly Bear, remain one of the most intriguing and original bands on the planet. They are prepared to make huge mistakes if that means not sounding like every other indie clone or nu-folk copyist. To quote a memorable phrase from the early Roxy Music this is truly ‘modern sounds for modern days’. In the last analysis Centipede Hz is a brilliant failure and sometimes celebrating those who try hardest but don’t always win is the one of the most important values we have.