With the advent of Animal Collective’s ninth studio album (in addition to a number of EPs, videos albums, art installations, and God knows what else), one might be better off describing the record as not the ninth of Animal Collective, but the first of a new incarnation of the band – that could probably be said for every album they come out with. It’s frustrating as a fan to never be able to peg Animal Collective: one second you’re given the acoustic inclined Sung Tongs, then the heavier rock-centric Feels, then the plummeting electro-rock feeling Strawberry Jam, then the almost all sample-based electronic Merriweather Post Pavilion – and now here’s Centipede Hz, which, well, you can’t exactly put into any category at all. People are calling it dense, and dense is a good word to describe it nicely, because on first listen it comes off as almost unbearable. Picking out melodies and song structures and even basic instruments seems like a chore more than anything else, and that’s why true AC fans will have to give the album several listens before finally being able to appreciate its glory. Because, after all, it is pretty glorious.
Surprisingly, Centipede Hz finds itself being the album of the year that you really want to not like (last year’s: Chad VanGaalen’s Diaper Island). The album art is awful, as is the title, and so is the website where you can stream the album – most of this is thanks to Avey Tare’s sister, Abby Portner, who designed the aesthetics behind the album – but she’s probably right in the end to put this art with the album. Centipede Hz, following the success of Merriweather, was probably a struggle for the band, and it was better managed on 2010’s EP Fall Be Kind, which I’d consider just as good if not better than Merriweather. Centipede, however, isn’t better or equal to either of those – it’s something completely different. And with that said, it almost makes you kind of sad. If you’re a lifelong Animal Collective fan, you’re being thrown through a loop again – I’d say that Strawberry Jam is there best (controversial, I know), but Merriweather was their swan song – so what is Centipede Hz? Well, it’s probably best described as a group of guys who’ve known each other for ten years and have gotten together to make a record. And we at least owe them the decency of listening in.
It probably takes three or four listens to finally pick out songs on the album that you might actually enjoy, considering the opening “Moonjock” is so jolting compared to “In The Flowers” that you pretty much just want to turn off the record right away. Maybe it feels a little bit more like “Peacebone,” but probably more epic – it swerves and turns and doesn’t really let you get a hand onto it until you’ve listened to it enough to let it be. For me, it was really the second half of the album that grabbed me – after digging into “New Town Burnout,” and hearing Panda Bear’s melodic voice again, I found myself pleased by “Monkey Riches,” “Mercury Man,” and eventually “Amanita.” But pleased is really the best way to put it, because there’s no immediate draw here like “Brother Sport,” or “My Girls,” or even the older “Fireworks” or “Who Could Win A Rabbit?” Those songs present something automatically interesting, whereas Centipede Hz gives you none of that. “Today’s Supernatural,” the albums first single, even feels like a stretch – maybe like something coming from a jam session more than anything else. So it’s not surprising that that’s what it is: Centipede Hz was essentially comprised of fourteen hours of these dudes fooling around and picking out things that sounded good to them. Which I suppose is alright for guys who have been making music for so long, but for an audience that’s come to want something immediate from them, it’s disappointing.
There have been comparisons to older, psychedelic records when listening to this new one, but those are unwarranted: any likeness to Pink Floyd or other bands is completely ridiculous – Centipede Hz is its own thing, and unlike anything else produced by Animal Collective or any other band. It’s about as frustrating and upsetting as it can be. You won’t find me putting it on in my room and reading to it. You won’t find me listening to it from start to finish with my eyes closed. You probably won’t even find me jamming out to a song on it. But the real question is: is Centipede Hz good? Well, yes, it’s fantastic. Animal Collective have outdone themselves again, and put together a record that albeit a chore, is one that you enjoy doing – it’s a homework assignment that you pull apart until you find more and more layers to delight you. Sure, Merriweather and others made you feel something, but Centipede makes you want to feel something. And when it comes down to it, every song has something spectacular to offer, and is just as listenable as anything else the band has produced. It’s a disappointment only in the sense that it’s not what we wanted, but that doesn’t make it not amazing. I suppose the only real decision a listener has to make is if it’s worth their time; for my money, it most certainly is.
– Peter Raffel, Top 200 MD