I for one was pleasantly surprised by Animal Collective’s 2008 extended play Water Curses, featuring four texturally-rich tracks including ‘Cobwebs’ and ‘Seal Eyeing’, both of which seeming to represent somewhat of a change of direction for the experimental four-piece American band – although previous efforts such as Feels (2005) and Strawberry Jam (2007) were equally stunning, not to mention arguably the band’s most critically acclaimed album Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009).
However, Centipede Hz is far more reminiscent of Animal Collective’s earlier work than of their popular 2009 album. Unfortunately, as with many artists who pleasantly surprise with an amazing album (I had never heard of the band before stumbling upon Merriweather Post Pavilion, and I doubt I would have liked them had I not listened to that album before delving into the rest of their extensive catalogue of work), this album cannot help but at least slightly disappoint. This is not to suggest that the album is in any way a failure, but it seems to represent more of a step back than a step forward in terms of style. Parts of Centipede Hz seem dense and intoxicating, such as the album’s lead single ‘Today’s Supernatural’, which to me has a similar rushing feel to ‘Water Curses’, only with louder, roaring vocals. ‘Rosie Oh’, definitely one of the album’s highlights, allows the melody to fully emerge to the forefront, regardless of the track rounding off with a bizarre sample of a robotic voice.
‘Wide Eyed’ and ‘Father Time’ are fascinating and completely intoxicating, but there are parts of the album, such as its opening track ‘Moonjock’, that do simply seem like a huge number of conflicting musical influences piled on top of one another to produce a frantic, psychedelic and jerky sound. These occasional surprises are, however, exactly what you have to come to appreciate in order to enjoy Animal Collective’s challenging new album. On first listen, I found myself torn between deciding that the whole album was a cluttered mess of drum beats, vocal samples and whistles and simply wanting to listen to it again. There is something completely fascinating about this new effort from the well-loved group, and though occasionally it has the misfortune of seeming messy (and at times downright weird), I have to admit that it equally has an ability to draw you in again and again.
It is not a perfect album, especially in comparison to Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion, which were nothing short of remarkable, but it is certainly an interesting listen. In one way perhaps it does represent a step back from the band’s previous two albums, which have gained huge notoriety, but in another way it is yet another development for the group, seeing them move away from their growing pop influences and heading back to their more experimental earlier work. However confusing Centipede Hz might seem on first listen, Animal Collective have a unique talent for keeping even loyal fans guessing, and in that sense their new effort is stunning.