ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: CENTIPEDE HZ (2012)
1) Moonjock; 2) Today's Supernatural; 3) Rosie Oh; 4) Applesauce; 5) Wide Eyed; 6) Father Time; 7) New Town Burnout; 8) Monkey Riches; 9) Mercury Man; 10) Pulleys; 11) Amanita.
Having so cleverly blown off the top bubbles from our further expectations with the ODDSAC project, The Animal Collective were now free to generate the «proper» follow-up to Merriweather Post Pavillion without necessarily having to «live up» to it, because «living up» would probably have meant stepping up on the seriousness pedal and making even further concessions to the traditional understanding of «gorgeousness» compared to those already made on Pavillion. But, as we all know, this treacherous road can easily transform mysterious sonic deities into ordinary musical mortals. As it is, The Animal Collective are quite committed to sticking to that «animal» component in their names.
Centipede Hz, marking the return of Deakin from an extended break that excluded him from the fame of Pavillion, is titled like a surrealistic radio station, and, indeed, right from the opening «this is the news...», with its heavy reliance on the use of static, wave functions, and annoying bits of pseudo-announcements and commercials scattered all over the place, the album sounds like a semi-spontaneous extract from such a station. However, that is not all. Building upon the progress of ODDSAC, the Collective now tax the recording tracks to the max — the sound is so much cluttered with layers of overdubs that, most of the time, the immediate impression is that you actually have two or more pieces of music going on at once. Just the kind of thing you'd get from poor reception in a heavy interference zone.
This is a risky approach — in the hands of non-professionals, this could end up as unlistenable, irritating chaos. But ten years into their recording career, the Animal Collective have worked out a great feel for how to do it correctly. Any single moment in these songs, if you just push the play button at a random spot, will sound like stupid noise. But altogether, these moments add up to almost perfect mathematical order, not forgetting build-ups, sustained tensions, climaxes, resolutions, and even hooks (for the brave ones — even singalong hooks!). Deconstruct the melodies, strip them of their excesses, and you will have yourself some cuddly, unexceptional folk-pop skeletons — when it comes to putting chords together, the band hasn't exactly progressed all that much from the days of Feels (not that they really should have). But the very point of the whole thing is — how much denseness and heaviness is allowed before it all crashes down?
Basically, as much as they want. On my favorite tracks — such as ʽApplesauceʼ — flying saucers whoosh by, electronic rivers of sampler sound trickle along, drums alternate between syncopated and straight patterns, and I cannot properly tell how many different roads are being taken by different instruments, but none of them detract from feeling the little bit of kiddie happiness in the repetitive chorus of "...I'm feeling like a little honey can roll". Nor do they prevent me from feeling a little pinch of moodiness during the chorus reproach of "you got to slide it off like mercury, can I play my parts like mercury?" (ʽMercury Manʼ) — no, the lyrics, in the good old AC tradition, steadily continue not to make any sense whatsoever, but that does not matter one bit.
That said, there are almost no individual standouts: every second is so crammed with aural delights, and most of the delights in question are so enigmatic when it comes to describing the feelings that they stir up, that I find myself at a total loss trying to single out peculiar moments. Arguably the only «special» track here is at the very end: ʽAmanitaʼ starts out in a very focused, collected manner — rather than scattering themselves all over the place in yet another kaleidoscopic roll, they open things with a catchy, anthemic synth riff that evokes «progressive» memories. But the sternness of the approach pretty soon falters, shatters, and gives way to the predictable sonic explosions.
Yes, the overloaded nature of all these patterns can get monotonous. I mentioned build-ups and resolutions, but it's not the kind of build-ups and resolutions that go from «quiet» to «loud» — over the course of one song, The Animal Collective will be happy to transport you from one part of their surrealistic jungle to another, even denser one, but getting out of the thicket onto the open plains is simply not an option. If you are psychologically unprepared for fifty minutes of electronic loops intertwined by twine champions, or all the synthetically processed double-, triple-, and quadruple- tracked vocals, it might be better to take these tracks slowly, one or two at a time.
Of course, listeners who got acquainted with the band primarily through ʽMy Girlsʼ or ʽBluishʼ or any of those other Brian Wilson-influenced little beauties, and expect more of the same, will get a headache — the gritty reality being that, if one assesses the AC as a whole, the world of Centipede Hz is closer to the «true» AC than the baroque flourishes of Merriweather. I certainly miss the baroque flourishes, and wouldn't mind them coming back; but I am also quite amazed at how far they have come in making that same philosophy that irritated me so much on their early records work so well on this one. Apparently, age and experience got to count for something even when it comes to deviant avantgarde mindsets. I don't know how well this thing will be holding up ten years from now, but at least thumbs up will always be thumbs up, I suppose.
Check "Centipede Hz" (MP3) on Amazon