Animal Collective have had a pretty good run when it comes to the critics. All of their albums have been greeted with open-arms, regardless of how belligerent they may get. Their success reached beyond the insulated critical realm with their last album, “Meariweather Post Pavillion,” becoming a mainstream success (a label no one would have ever given to AC with their mix of overtly artistic/abrasive music). But after finally earning worldwide acceptance, filling outdoor arenas on their current tour, the band has fallen from graces within the critic’s sect with their latest album, Centipede Hz.
While some publications have printed lukewarm reviews, many have not been kind in the least. The Independent called the album “…a fatiguing experience,” NOW Magazine labeled it “…obnoxious chaos,” and Paste described it as “…dense ugliness…”. The New York Times review paints a picture where Avey Tare has taken charge, in turn destroying all of Panda Bear’s confidence, while the self-proclaimed “world’s busiest music nerd” over at The Needle Drops suggests that the return of Deakin to the band has had a negative effect on their sound.
All of their theories are based in truth, but these “flaws” are part of the reason I find Centipede Hz to be a brilliant, adventurous, mind-fuck. Maybe my viewpoint is influenced by my love for Animal Collective (they are probably my favorite band of the past decade), but regardless of my fanboy-dom, I’d like to try and defend both AC and Centipede HZ.
May I approach the bench, your honor?
Yes, Centipede HZ is a noisy, chaotic, mess of erratic beats and incomprehensible, over-lapped samples. Yes, the album is a non-stop-sugar-rush-claustrophobic exercise in plowing over the listener. And yes, experiencing this album via headphones will probably send you into convulsions. But should any of these qualities come as a surprise? Have these reviewers listened to older AC albums like Hollinndagain or Here Comes the Indian? Maybe their last few albums have leaned closer to melodic territories, but AC have always been and always will be a band that aims to displease. I can’t help but wonder how many of these reviewers arrived to the party late and didn’t realize that the friendly confines of Merriweather Post Pavilion were just a clever ruse.
While those past albums sounded like noisy séances captured from some secluded forest, Centipede HZ takes the drum circle to the city. The tribal drums and acoustic instruments have been replaced by garbled synths and vocals that sound like they are being transmitted from a UFO miles above the skyline. Another difference on this album in comparison to their past works of uncomfortable experimentations is that it still meanders towards their more recent penchant for actual melodies – they just aren’t going to make it easy for you, burying vocals beneath layers of futuristic blips and samples.
“Monkey Riches” will make you wretch (in a good way):
The droning noise that I keep mentioning is not just there to take up space as some reviews have suggested. Centipede HZ is AC’s closest thing to a concept album, a statement on the over-inundated society of constant distraction and unending consumption of information. As a result, the album suggests we’ve lost ourselves in the process.
Despite the darker environs of Centipede Hz, the majority of the songs sing of hazy childhood memories, trying to survive amidst the chaos. Each band member shares a childhood memory in a way that resembles an AC support group. On the album opener, “Moonjock,” Avey Tare reminisces about family vacations spent “in the back of our old car” with “greasy French fries,” “sun heated seats,” and “’Love Me Do’ on the radio.” On “Wide-Eyed” Deacon sings of the heart-wrenching loss of a love one, and in one of the most revealing songs on the album, “Rosie Oh,” Panda Bear describes a feeling of isolation that has accompanied him since leaving his childhood in Baltimore.
It’s not only a statement on the human experience and where our values should be really placed, but it also speaks to that overall feeling of loss associated with the technological revolution. The album commands your attention and dedication – I guess some reviewers were too busy updating their Twitter statuses to give this album the honest review it deserved.