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Monday, September 3, 2012

Animal Collective: Centipede Hz (Release Date: 9-4-2012)

        Early in 2009, the previously unthinkable happened: Animal Collective released an album that was, in just about every sense of the word, accessible. Merriweather Post Pavilion, going against the grain of everything the band had previously ever done, was both inviting and immediate, requiring exactly one listen to be readily recognized as an unmitigated triumph. One would be foolish to believe the band regrets releasing such a smash-hit of an album, undoubtably one of the most widely-lauded efforts of that year, but it must be a bummer to be saddled with expectations for a similarly user-friendly follow-up. But something tells me the thoughts of the masses have little to do with this band's final product, as Centipede Hz stands as their most peculiar release in nearly a decade (the incomparable ODDSAC withstanding).

        Where MPP was all about discovering a readily-dicernable hook, and riding it off to heaven, Hz is more comfortable layering one odd-ball sound on top of another. The transition can be a bit jarring, especially on opener Moonjock, which pounds, stops, starts, and squeals in unpredictable, counter-intuitive fashion. First single Today's Supernatural feels cut from the same eccentric, excessive cloth, changing speeds at the drop of a hat, avoiding pop's relatable structures like the black plague. The opening stanza proves to be a mission statement of sorts; this disc is all about momentum, oddity, and mad-cap multi-tracking. Those unwilling to give an album multiple listens before passing judgement would be advised to stay home. Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Avey Tare (Dave Portner), and the boys never wanted you, anyways.

        To be sure, the level of sonic bombast on display here can become a bit exhausting, but there's no denying the album's overall sense of cohesiveness. Centipede is a much faster effort than its predecessor, speeding through dense space on wings made of deranged drum machines. As a result, the disc's sound world becomes more intuitive as the playlist progresses, and is able to really sink under your skin if given the requisite patience and attention. By the time Tare's highlight track, Monkey Riches, reaches its zenith near the five-minute mark, you're ready to follow that wacko right down the rabbit hole.

        Hz is largely Portner's brainchild, which is undoubtably the primary culprit behind its esoteric nature. Where Pavilion split time between AC's two frontmen almost right down the middle (six songs for Tare, five for Panda Bear), Centipede boasts eight tracks credited to Portner, the lesser pop-craftsman of the two, and only a pair by Lennox (Rosie Oh and New Town Burnout). It should come as little surprise that those aforementioned tracks prove by far the most hummable and easiest to sort through (not to mention being among the best, Burnout especially). Even Josh Dibb, absent for the band's previous home-run, gets in on the songwriting fun, contributing vocals for the first time on the trippy, over-powering Wide Eyed. But the tone, texture, and thematics here are all clearly governed by Portner, which, if you like your Animal Collective as sugary-sweet as possibly, is not such a good thing. Those more open to their adventurous spirit will have to decide for themselves.

        Animal Collective's 2012 offering will almost undoubtedly be remembered as something of a let-down, which is both a shame, and a simple product of the band's creative process. Merriweather was, in truth, a one-off by a band who'd rather blaze their trails across the moon's surface than through earthy pastures, and as such, Centipede Hz has a 0% chance of winning over all the folks who, 'finally got,' the band for the first time three years ago. Truth be told, even those unopposed to the group's occasional star-gazing will be hard-pressed to find a measure by which Centipede out-ranks its forbearer.

        But did you really expect/want a sequel? Animal Collective has always been about wild ambitions and thorny aesthetics, so it stands to reason that their rampant experimentation would yield an inconsistent product. And that's assuming that my present position (on the friendlier side of luke-warm) will be my final one, which is never a safe bet when handling an AC record within mere weeks of initial introduction. Their tunes often take time, and while I'm not here to tell you that Hz is some kind of classic, it surely doesn't deserve the, 'miss-fire,' label that I anticipate wearing in the near future. The tides have turned since 2012, and they will undoubtably turn again. This is Animal Collective: expect the unexpected.

Grade: B

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