Animal Collective - Centipede Hz

Animal Collective might not go on to split the atom (that might just be asking too much), but they do seem, yet again, to have invented an exciting new formula.

Label: Domino Records

Rating: 8

Cast your mind back to the good old days of secondary school physics lessons. That musty old lab with its rickety shelves, stuffed with jars of chemicals with iodine stained labels. The faded periodic table with curling corners pinned onto the wall. That little battered machine called an oscilloscope that showed bright little green waves on a circular screen as your decrepit lab teacher twiddled various dials and wittered on about something called a Hz. You might have been one of these indignant young children who always shouted out in class ‘when will I ever need to know something as boring as that?!’ You might also, in your ripe old skeptical age, be asking ‘what the devil does science have to do with a review of the new Animal Collective album?!’ Hopefully things will start to make sense henceforth.

Without wishing to delve any further into mathematics lest everybody reading this is rendered comatose, a Hertz is pretty neat. It’s constantly modulating, and acoustically unlike any other sound. It can be compressed, distorted, and stretched yet it always makes perfect, cyclic sense. It does, incidentally, look a bit like a Centipede on-screen, too.

If useful for nothing else then, the Hertz is a stonkingly accurate metaphor for ‘Centipede Hz.’; an album of rich, jarring sounds and quickly shifting arrangements that still seem to take on the form of something whole and circular, in that tricky-to-define Animal Collective way that makes everything they do so exciting. ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ was a heady and transcendent record, detached from material things in favour of drifting off into fields of wild flowers, or even just getting lost in that hypnotic purple and green front cover. On ‘My Girl’ Animal Collective longed effervescently for a “solid soul” and “four walls and adobe slabs”, but still remained submerged, coming from dreamier realms. ‘Centipede Hz. is a return to what is physical and live, and fittingly, the band chose to record it all together within the same four walls, standing as a complete quartet again on the same adobe slabs.

The clashingly abrupt cymbals and slash guitars that kick start the album on ‘Moonjock’ are real and grounded all right, and it’s a sudden switch to physicality; we haven’t heard Animal Collective quite like this before. The moment that comes closest is the potent raw energy of the drums that dominated ‘Fireworks’ back in the ‘Strawberry Jam’ days, but this is commitment to the live sound on a new level. The vocals are fuelled by a spontaneous, unpredictable energy, and the melody fluctuates and evolves rapidly; ducking and diving, weaving and interlacing through the sonic noise around it. With constant nods to the late-night radio mixes that Animal Collective used to listen to growing up in Baltimore, a kind of static underpins the entire record. The vocals are also very different to the layered, muffled harmonics that defined Merriweather; on ‘Today’s Supernatural’ the raw, one-track quality particularly stands out. For the first time the Brooklyn band seem to have successfully narrowed the void between the experience of listening to an Animal Collective record, and that of attending an Animal Collective live show.

Although ‘Centipede Hz.’ seems rooted in something very concrete, it is however, unmistakably an Animal Collective record; no other band around would be capable of creating such experimental, psychedelic, mad, and oddly, very listenable pop music. ‘Applesauce’, full of skipping musicality, impish rhythms and occasional cacophony, interplays all its elements like a perfectly in-tune radio set, and the result is deliciously odd-ball. The slightly woeful ‘Rosie Oh’ sounds like it was recorded from inside a life-sized kaleidoscope filled with Cherryade, and there are some tantalizingly blue tinted melodies to be found too. Despite all the space aged noises and layers of static ‘Centipede Hz.’ is an intrinsically human album, and seems very believable. Full of endless subtleties and ‘meanings’ that we can never even hope to wrap our mortal brains around, Animal Collective have created something more than worth engaging with. Just like those unidentifiable chemicals from lab class, you don’t need to understand what every symbol and combination on ‘Centipede Hz.’ does, and why the result is this incredible music combustion. Animal Collective might not go on to split the atom (that might just be asking too much), but they do seem, yet again, to have invented an exciting new formula.