Album Of The Week Review: Animal Collective ‘Centipede Hz’

September 6th 2012

So apparently Animal Collective want your attention. Eight seconds into the first track on this disc and my ears are being held hostage by the toughest hi-hats I’ve ever heard – I’m talking The Incredible Hulk bashing a couple of satellite dishes together, foreboding bottom end reverberating off each hit. Then an ultra-serious alien mothership comes by to hang, with its loudly pulsating, hyperscientific magnet engine forcing a whole lotta throbbing bass into your earholes. Not to miss out on a quality jam sesh, the Martian whom Daft Punk brought in to play the guitar on Robot Rock steps out of the mothership and plugs in. But then Panda, Avey and the rest of the AC boys step in and say “HEY, look I know this is pretty radical right now, but we’re not DFA 1979 so let’s strap this jam into some boots that stomp to a 7/8 time signature and let get things reeeaaal freaky up in here”. They did.

Centipede Hz is one of few albums that contain such wonderful harmony amongst varied sound sources – synthesised instruments, electronically-altered field recordings, studio-recorded instruments and vocals – they’re all intertwined perfectly, and the record shines because of it. These guys have not been afraid of experimentation in the past, and nothing has changed. Even in the lead single, ‘Today’s Supernatural’, a melodica provides harmony underneath wonderfully untamed vocals as African percussion canters alongside relentless synthesised arpeggios, electronic effects flying at all angles.

Despite how cacophonic that sounds, Animal Collective have somehow managed to ride the line between all-out aural trip, and accessibility. It’s not easy to pull off, but basically what they’ve done is graciously allowed the weary old body of Pop Music to stay in the tiny universe reserved for Centipede Hz, but only on the condition that it grovels at the feet of the album’s patron saint – a figure imbued with the mystique of Frank Zappa’s moustache, a figure both eternally dark and more radiant than the sun, a figure composed of eclectic mixes of sounds, unique and wild. The casual listener is then allowed into this small universe, and can quite easily clamber onto Pop Music’s hunched back and see directly into the eyes of Centipede Hz. If they stay there long enough, they’ll receive the priceless gift of understanding this collection of songs.

Do I understand? Not quite yet. It washed over me on my first listen, but after giving it a bit more time to sink in, I started to realise the beauty in this album. There are so many layers to peel back; rhythms upon rhythms performed with increasingly strange instrumentation, not to mention the carefully crafted melodies and– well that’s just it isn’t it. Everything here is so carefully crafted with the aim of being constantly intriguing and never repetitious without reason. There’s always a new sound to follow in the mix that you might not have noticed on a previous listen. Subtle elements of pop are present in many tracks for accessibility, but unlike most pop music, this is truly a record made to last. The way it constantly unfolds before the listener’s ears after each listen tells me that this is certainly not disposable, and if all goes well, it may just stand the test of time.