Following up a masterpiece like Merriweather Post Pavilion is a thankless task: There’s almost no way you can create a better album, and even if you do, don’t expect anyone listening to think so.
And while Animal Collective could have retreated to previous successes to reduce that pressure, the band instead threw us for a loop: Centipede Hz doesn’t recall the band’s pre-MPP records (contrary to suggestions made by the band and several early listeners); at most, it reminds us more of those old records than it does MPP, but as with any Animal Collective project, there’s no going backward: The only thing Centipede Hz is looking back at is us, from its own world somewhere in the future.
The band projects these little futures in each of their albums, which offer a place where music is very, very different from what it is now. The world of Centipede Hz distinctly derives from its title: There are, as the band hinted to Pitchfork this year, “all these arms” to each song, like a centipede. And the mechanistic, measured frequencies of Hz chug beneath many of them. The percussion and sampled elements work like cogs snapping into other gears inside some kind of machine, and the African and Latin guitar accents borrowed from the borrowers — David Byrne and other ’70s New Yorkers — crisply power the groove of each song.
And refreshingly, the widely held belief that Animal Collective had “discovered” itself on MPP proves baseless: the creepiness of Centipede Hz, inherent in a dark Tropicalia fluttering throughout, makes absolutely no plays toward the mellowed radio-friendliness of the last album, and few toward the deeply confrontational aesthetics of their early work, in noise and sampling (see Here Comes The Indian, Danse Manatee, or Hollinndagain).
There’s also a really left-field source to some of Centipede Hz: a definite draw from classic rock, British and American. With the exception of the rhythmic oddities and electronic flair, more than a few songs — “Moonjock,” “Applesauce,” and “Today’s Supernatural,” with big guitars and big hits — wouldn’t sound out of place in the hands of Pink Floyd, Thin Lizzy, or Foreigner. On a mix released by Geologist — originally compiled to give Centipede Hz producer Ben Allen an idea of the vibe the band was going for as they entered the studio — there’s plenty of psychedelic, Latin music, and experimental compositions. Most of Centipede Hz, though, draws from the ’80s — however, where many of their pop contemporaries are informed by that decade’s bass drum-heavy, hip-hop, and R&B landscapes, Animal Collective cribs from other-worldlier, darker elements.
On “New Town Burnout,” Animal Collective pairs the skittering paranoia of David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts with the sweeping echoes of the Human League (also audible on “Wide Eyed”). “Rosie Oh” could be an Orange Juice cover, but it’s excellently done, and contains some of the subtler studio and synthesizer wizardry on the album. “Monkey Riches” and “Wide Eyed” are early standouts: teeth-gritting, mantra-like pounders with waves to the repetition and synth squeaks of Can and Neu!. They do what great Animal Collective songs always do: delight with their epic scope (with none of the cathedral reverb favored by other bands) while totally reestablishing the possibilities of the band itself. Animal Collective sounds, as they always do when they are at their best, like a bunch of people who have never seen their instruments played before, but are extremely skilled with them.
That’s the world in which Centipede Hz exists. “Amanita” closes that world: The sound literally melts apart at the end, fitting for a song named for an extremely lethal mushroom often mistaken for the psychedelic one. The song, like some others here, feels a little lost, and has less at stake than its title would suggest. The new album may not cohere like MPP, but we need to accept the possibility of a record so excellent we don’t understand it yet — something with so much hype that we expect it to really warp minds and trip us out. Give it time. I can assure you it’s not lethal.