Animal Collective ‘Centipede HZ’ – Review

6 Sep

Animal Collective. *sigh*. In bits and pieces they’ve made some  brilliant music; ‘Meriwether Post Pavillion’ and ‘Person Pitch’ obviously, and a lot of ‘Feels’ and ‘Strawberry Jam’ were brilliant. But come on, anyone’s who’s seen them live will surely attest to their inconsistency, as will anyone who had to sit and listen to most of their early stuff. Their purple patch circa 2007-2010 was a brief but unprecedented period of staggering creativity for the band, but with ‘centipede HZ’ they’re back to their old form; occasionally spellbinding, usually awful, always unique.

Part of the reason for this inconsistency is their ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach to making music which means that if you aren’t in the right mood, their albums are almost unlistenable. This record in particular is loud, frenzied, and buzzing with ideas – some of which they pull off but most of which they don’t. Each song is packed to bursting with sounds and melodies that rise and fall, stutter and stop, start and explode, and It screws with your head. Opener ‘Moonjack’ has a particularly chaotic soundscape that sits ill at ease with the song’s lyrical content (a description of a childhood car journey). The crazier the lyrics, the more sense the crazy music makes; for example on ‘Monkey Riches’ where Avey Tare sings ‘Lately I want to be in my heart /But where exactly is my heart and where does it start?’ Here the words make about as much sense as the music. Fine.

After the relatively blissed out sounds of ‘Meriwether Post Pavillion’ (which, whilst hardly relaxed, was a damnsight more laid back than this album) the chaos surrounding everything on ‘Centipede HZ’ feels slightly bewildering and overwhelming. ‘Today’s Supernatural’ has an interesting melody that is complimented nicely by a slightly demented synth. Sadly though both of these elements are drowned out by a bulldozer of noise that virtually demolishes the song over the course of four minutes. Likewise, the beautiful melody in the middle eight of ‘Rosie Oh’ is completely drowned out by the sound of a car alarm going off. Flickering from channel to channel. interrupted by the sound of a bicycle bell. And a bird screeching. Why? Does it reflect the song’s lyrical busyness? Or maybe it compliments the song’s theme or main concern? Hardly, in fact whilst all this chaos is going on Tare is singing about being ‘on my own’. Deliberate Irony? Considering the whole album is this mental, I find that unlikely.

If you can see past the awful, chaotic soundscapes (I can’t – I’ve tried) and focus on the melodies then you may find this a more interesting and rewarding listen. AC have always been capable producing genius in this department, and that talent at least shines brightly on this record. It contains a couple of earworms like ‘Applesauce’, ‘Rosie Oh’ and ‘Mercury Man” whilst ‘Wide Eyed’ sees Deacon take lead vocal for the first time. This song may be the best thing on here; his voice weaves in and out with enjoyable effort and the lyrics are well thought through (it may not be a coincidence that this is the only song that doesn’t feel particularly overstuffed with noises). The track has a World Music vibe that feels like a natural continuation of Merriwhether’s psychadelic sonic delights.

The reviews of ‘Centipede HZ’ have thus far have been hilariously frustrating, with publications who clearly don’t like or understand the album giving it high praise. Why? Because it was made by the untouchable Animal Collective of course. I guarantee you that had this been the debut album by an unknown band there is no way anyone would be paying it any attention. These reviewers talk about expectations and how Animal Collective haven’t pandered to ours, well, the one thing I expected ‘Centipede HZ’ to be was surprising. In many ways it is a surprising record, but not for the right reasons. It’s surprising for its lack of clarity, its lack of innovation, its lack of focus, and mainly for its lack of tunes. It surprises me more that despite these things I would still recommend giving it a listen, the melodies alone are interesting enough to warrant that, and the lyrics are often intriguing in their own right. But come on! It’s been three and a half years since ‘Meriwether Post Pavillion’, and I know it’s probably unfair to bang on about that record as much as I have done, but after that classic work of art, I can’t believe this is the best they could return with.



One Response to “Animal Collective ‘Centipede HZ’ – Review”

  1. Susan September 21, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    I think this album is nothing less than brilliant.

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