The capital importance of Animal Collective on the music scene this last decade is particularly defined by a fact that tends to be forgotten. They didn’t jump on the bandwagon of psychedelic revival because it was in fashion, but rather the other way round: they were the ones to start the boom. Obviously this merit is incompatible with being admired by everyone and this controversy makes their proposal even more stimulating than it would be otherwise. Call them what you like, agree with them or blow them off, shout or squirm, but never call them boring, because you will run the risk of being tried for perjury. After the peak implied by “Merriweather Post Pavilion” (2009), it was to be expected that the heated arguments always caused by the Baltimore band would die down, but nothing could be further from the truth, because in general terms, “Centipede Hz” is an album that makes things even harder. A brainier, less dreamy work than its predecessor, it is harder to get into and easier to get out of. It is a less surprising work than their previous ones. As a work, it’s less of a “new twist of the screw”, but rather - in a certain sense - it takes a step backwards.
Overcoming the challenges that they set themselves and managing to have a sound of their own for each release is something that they’ve been doing since their earliest days. And it’s the only thing that they seem to get off on. They began to specify this in great heights of composition; starting from the wild “Sung Tongs” (2004) and the nebulous “Feels” (2005), sublimating it later in the violent “Strawberry Jam” (2007) and in the rainbow drawn by “Merriweather” – the latter two albums that “Centipede Hz” seems to be in a psychotic collision with. Once again, here they have avoided making an album similar to the others, although one does notice a somewhat exaggerated desire to reclaim old stimuli and tricks similar to those that they successfully squeezed the most from in “Merriweather”, especially as far as the sequencing of the tracklist goes. The pitfall to be overcome was passing the gateway of the previous album, although if you think about it, it doesn’t even seem necessary: the magic of that work still shines so freshly that we could say that we weren’t even in need of a successor yet. And here comes the good thing, because precisely what you never feel with this ninth LP from Animal Collective is that it is a forced work. It sounds natural and logical, as if it had squirted out of their heads without them being able to stop the haemorrhage.
The four of them playing together again seems to have awakened in them an excitement worthy of a bacchanal. They claim to have recorded their garage roots album in the form of cosmic jams - focused on a live show, trying out almost all of the songs live -and one can tell that. More than emotion, what really takes priority is, effectively, the seeking out of a physical impact. “Centipede Hz” concentrates as much energy as possible in each section, as if under the spell of the group’s answer to George Martin’s magic wand; specifically, one Ben Allen, who once again makes the repertoire into a fertile field of surprises. We find Avey Tare sprinkling about the magic powder that he used to sculpt his fabulous “Down There”. Panda Bear sits down at the drums once again as if he were a steam engine - obsessed, they say, with Stewart Copeland’s drumsticks – and taking up once again the more advanced territory of his excellent “Tomboy” in things like “New Town Burnout” (which reminds one of “Afterburner” even in the title). Deakin is back, more daring than ever, as is shown by “Wide Eyed”. Arm-wrestling with Geologist, the two of them knock themselves out to recycle samples and sequencers that they had already used previously, to mould a sonic world that goes from paying careful attention to Latin music (the impressive “Today’s Supernatural” and that sort of distorted calypso that is “Father Time”), to rendering homage to the Beach Boys and White Noise on “Rosie Oh”.
There are two key concepts to emphasise. On the one hand there is repetition, a shadow hanging over the album from the title itself: the centipede as an arthropod with many legs and hertz as a representation of cycles per second. The unreal effect caused by repetition is also reflected in the radio as a concept, or shall we say, in the manner in which they use the memory of what they have heard on the radio as if it were a beacon. Domino suggest that they plot about how different broadcasts and frequencies would sound lost in the airwaves and in this sense one can better understand their decision to release it as an online radio broadcast. From it, by the way, they are actually encouraging people to create their own programs. It’s a promo strategy that gives the album something of the nature of a station, a broadcaster rather than a receiver. It’s an album that vomits out new concepts after regurgitating others – rather than a proposal that rotates around others’ work, as would be the case of the other great radio broadcast of the season, Frank Ocean’s “Orange Channel”.
Moving away from the aspect of sound - and having understood the peak that they reached in this sense with “Merriweather” - we will say that the album’s other great weapon is how it helps to clarify the group’s surreal poetry. Whilst songs like “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes” already suggested as much with “transparent” lyrics about the pleasures of the everyday, “Centipede Hz” delves even deeper into nostalgia and the family as the group’s main obsessions. It does so from the first moments, with the memories of a childhood road trip (“Moonjock”) and the description of what it is to be an outsider (“Today’s Supernatural”), placing the conceptual body in the forefront: the feeling of strangeness involved in going back to where you came from or the inability to recognise your own origins. These are ideas that later end up diluted in lyrics like those of “New Town Burnout” (where the fear of going home - after tours? - is faced), “Father Time” (“a long time ago” as a primal shout), “Rosie Oh” (“As I left my home I cried and a substituted figure tried to reconcile the things I’d left behind”) and “Mercury Man”, where the lyrics make the hertz into kilometres as a metric unit to illustrate how far they are away, both in sound and spirit, from everyone and everything. They are hostages held by that thief called music - maybe this time they won’t steal your heart away, but don’t doubt for a moment that they will capture your mind once again.