It has been almost four years since Animal Collective’s brilliant 2009 album “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” Released to universal acclaim, and giving the band much exposure through poppy, mesmerizing singles like “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes,” “Merriweather” propelled Animal Collective to near- mainstream success. This is a great feat for a decade-old band whose early catalog consists largely of experimental, often hard to digest psychedelic noise rock. Now, nearly four years later, the long-awaited follow-up to “Merriweather” has arrived in the form of “Centipede Hz.”
Given that Animal Collective has never really been a predictable band, there was great uncertainty as to what exactly “Centipede Hz” would sound like. Those expecting the warm welcoming dreaminess of “Merriweather Post Pavilion” will surely be alarmed by the frantically in-your-face, one-two punch opening of “Moonjock” and the wonderfully hyperactive single “Today’s Supernatural.”
Both songs are filled with spontaneous melodies, layers of ideas and Avey Tare’s entrancingly raw, yet occasionally verging on grating vocals. The tracks also make it instantly clear that appealing to the casual listeners that loved “My Girls” is not one of Animal Collective’s intentions.
The album often uses fuzzy snippets of old radio commercials and white noise interference as interludes. They are perfectly in line with the album’s frantic nature. It often sounds like the band is purposely trying to make “Centipede Hz” a difficult album to settle into.
The band’s apparent love of stacking melodies makes tracks like “Applesauce” and “Mercury Man” more frustrating than anything. Panda Bear manages to make it work though on one of his only two contributions on the album, “Rosie Oh.” With its loopy Beach Boys-on-acid sound, the track is a bizarrely catchy little gem.
One of the main things Animal Collective has always done well is establishing a elegant blend of beauty and chaos, most memorably on past songs like “Grass” and “Peacebone.” On “Centipede Hz,” the band appears to have lost a little of that magic balance, mostly trading in beauty for chaos. It is only when they find splendor in the clutter when the album truly shines. Highlights “Monkey Riches” and “Father Time” are as instantly enchanting as they are engaging.
“Centipede Hz” is not the masterpiece many people were certainly hoping for after the band’s streak of increasingly excellent albums. If “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was surprising in how instant and welcoming it was, “Centipede Hz” is surprising in how challenging and aggressive it is.
As with a difficult band like Animal Collective though, there is no doubt that many will eventually love this album with time. The songs here are layered enough to keep the listener coming back until the band undoubtedly surprises again with their next release.