What I’m listening to: Animal Collective

Is the best band of 2009 still the best band of 2012? We investigate.

How strange it must be to be Animal Collective in 2012. In the past 3 1/2 years since the release of “breakthrough” record Merriweather Post Pavilion (actually their eighth, but the first taste for many fans), the Baltimore foursome transitioned—from strange dudes writing lush, trippy music to strange dudes writing lush, trippy music that every high school freshman was blaring from their Mom’s SUV on the way to soccer practice.

But MPP was more than just a crossover record—it was beloved by bloggers, ivory tower critics, and quote-on-quote “hipsters” alike, managing to score the #1 spot on Pitchfork’s yearly list of records AND songs. So where does that leave the band now, in 2012, as they prepare to release their ninth full-length, Centipede Hz?

There’s been a lot of speculation about this record, from the meaning of the cover art (less iconic than MPP?) to how its release will affect AC’s title of Our Generation’s Most Important Hipster Band. But Animal Collective themselves have never seemed terribly invested in their hipster identity—which is to say, they’ve never seemed invested in conforming to the hipster identity—doing generally unhip things like wearing cargo shorts and staying home from tour to play with their kids. So it’s not surprising then that Centipede Hz ends up eschewing expectations, and delving instead into the band’s collective weirdness—just as 8 other records have done before.

Compared to Merriweather Post Pavilion, which Pitchfork dubbed AC’s “pop” album, Centipede Hz is certainly less accessible. And it’s just as well, since Animal Collective doesn’t need another pop record (especially since MPP still holds up remarkably well.) Rather, Centipede Hz is the type of record you need to dive into, then swim around in for a bit and explore, with songs finally blooming on the fourth or fifth listen.

Centipede Hz kicks off with punchy banger “MoonJock,” a lush, thick intro into what’s to come. The sound still is quintessentially Animal Collective—there’s no chance of anyone mistaking the artist—but there’s a sort of immediacy here that’s different from MPP’s mellow, summery sounds. Follower (and BNM’ed) “Today’s Supernatural” is a frenzied mash of wailing vocals, spastic percussion, accordion, and wacky sound effects that recollects the world’s trippiest carnival—while “Rosie Oh” juxtaposes fractured structure and post-punk guitars with moments of choral splendor.

“Applesauce,” in my opinion, is the closest the record gets to a moment of “My Girls”-esque brilliance, with an easy keyboard line and blooming chorus, resulting in mini-moments of exuberance. I actually like this song a lot, and there’s an accessibility here that the soccer practice crowd will appreciate as well.

“Wide-Eyed,” by contrast, is a denser, spacier concoction, with circular rhythms courtesy of newly-returned member Josh “Deakin” Dibb (who was conspicuously absent from MPP), and whose new age-y lyrics remind the listener that while AC might revel in cargo shorts and early bedtimes, they haven’t lost their sense of wonder.

“Monkey Riches” is a delirious, feverish rager, complete with frantic vocals, wiggly synths, and a wily-turned-maniacal beat—while “Pulleys” layers lush, gorgeous vocals atop a background humming with pops and clicks. And closing track “Amanita” (which Stereogum points out is the name of a poisonous mushroom, often confused with a psychedelic one) is a gurgled Beach Boys-esque trip through a forest, the band insisting, amongst dense instrumentation: “I'm gonna come back and things will be different.” Different for sure, but still great.

Stream Centipede Hz for free via the band’s website; then scoop it up September 4, and catch the band live October 3 at the Mann Center.


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