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'Centipede Hz' is polarizing, yet brilliant

Domino

By Katie Steen, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 4, 2012

Like its creepy, crawly namesake, Animal Collective’s latest album, Centipede Hz, is teeming with moving parts that will make many listeners uncomfortable. It squirms, thrashes and darts around unpredictably, more so than what fans may be used to from the group. But rather than squashing the bugger at first listen, a closer observation reveals Centipede Hz as a fascinating creature.

The album — pronounced “centipede hertz” — is the foursome’s ninth, so at this point the boys have a sturdy following — particularly after 2009’s much-adored Merriweather Post Pavilion. Centipede Hz, however, will likely be an album defended to the grave by some fans, while rebuffed by others as nothing more than a crammed mishmash of malfunctioning loops and scary screams. The trick to actually enjoying it is to not become overwhelmed by the seeming chaos — instead let the melodies appear over many listens until the album isn’t just combinations of sounds but actual, coherent songs.

The album begins with a bang — several bangs actually — combined with disjointed guitar chords in “Moonjock.” This song grabs listeners by the earlobe from the first note so it can scream that there will be no “My Girls” on this album. But amid all the tangles of clamor, a fairly easygoing melody establishes itself less than a minute into “Moonjock.” It’s almost as if the chorus is a psychedelic band jamming inside the garage while listeners press their ears against the wall outside, enjoying the song while surrounded by electronic jibberish.

Most tracks on Centipede Hz begin with glitchy noises resembling radio signals, and tend to decay at the end as a snarled transition into the next track. This can be partially attributed to the group’s process of music-making: jamming each day, then sifting through hours of recordings to fuse what they liked into tracks. Melodies were constructed around the slices of those recordings, resulting in a collage-like feel while still maintaining structure. Songs like “Father Time” and “Applesauce” maintain the warm, bubbling traits of favorites from Merriweather, but resemble their distant, more spastic cousins rather than next of kin.

But despite the album’s almost constant jitter, it stalls near the end. Eventually “Mercury Man” seems to tune itself out like a beeping video game in the background. Next comes “Pulleys,” a wandering track that, like “Mercury Man,” is easily forgotten. But the album revives itself in the end with “Amanita,” an exotic, five-minute cruise that melts down at the end.

Centipede Hz is an album that deserves to be examined bit by bit, though overwhelming at first. Listen to the lyrics of “Monkey Riches” when Avey Tare (David Portner) insists, “I don’t want to knock you down.” Hold your ground, give it lots of listens, and Centipede Hz won’t hurt at all.


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