Ten odd albums in, Animal Collective are most often pegged as the keepers of an “experimental” niche of popular music. This isn’t what makes them special, though. Instead it’s how sensitive they can be as a group. They are tuned in with what it means to be perceived as existing at the vanguard of music production and the place of their fans within it. The band’s most recent work together is the visual album, ODDSAC. The piece screened in cities around the world. Director Danny Perez or the entire band attended every screening.
Animal Collective’s recording process falls somewhere between that of purists like The Dirty Projectors, who work in long periods of self-imposed isolation, and The Strokes, whose lead singer emailed in his vocals for their last album. Centipede Hz (pronounced like the insect and the rent-a-car company) was constructed by more of a travelling circus, as all the members of Animal Collective wrote together in Baltimore, recorded in El Paso and fine-tuned songs on the road in front of live crowds.
Perhaps uncoincidentally, Animal Collective have some of the most engaging live performances around. Their shows are paced by choreographed sonic wind-ups and wind-downs between tracks. They don’t stop to gab with the crowd because they don’t really ever stop playing. In notes released with the album, Animal Collective said they began work on the album by remembering “growing up listening to station announcements and commercials on the radio and imagining the afterlife of radio signals from the past.”
Their inspiration syncs with the musical endurance that characterizes their live performance. But instead of used cars or insurance, the noise between songs on Centipede Hz pitches sound loops, samples and extraterrestrial bleeps.
Two weeks before its physical release date, the album streamed on their internet radio show with visual accompaniments for each track. From its inspiration to its execution and transmission, the album is Animal Collective’s response to changing mediums of music reception.
Centipede Hz is as woozily romantic as the band’s last album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, but it is more crowded. Noisier and wordier, it covers a lot more questions. “Monkey Riches” puzzles over the struggle against becoming a “cerebral spouse” and the marital issues that would make a monkey wretch. Or is it a monkey rich? Eventually it all just sounds like “monkey wrench.”
Avey Tare’s vocals and synthesizers tend to stretch and melt Animal Collective’s lyrics until it’s harder to tune in to them than it is to tune them out — but it’s worth a try. The album is a lyrical road-trip telling about hikes and car rides. “Applesauce” is about the fun times of farmers, kids, chefs and the mayors whom they feed. Centipede Hz indulges the band’s percussive side, with what sound like gourd cabasas, those shakers wearing beaded dresses, holding down the beat of almost every song.
In an interview with The Quietus, Deakin says nostalgia is something of a “dirty word” for the band. Their music feels more palimpsestuous as it excitedly layers memories while celebrating their absence. The group’s focus on forms of transmission make their newest album a literal representation of the temperament of touring musicians. On album opener “Moonjock,” we’re clipping along with post-Pavilion era Animal Collective, driving along to a “stash of jams that [run] along in Michelin time.”
Contact David Getman at [email protected]