Review Summary: Centipede Hz is a decent album, but its gears are clogged by an overzealous dishing out of noise. Well that, and its lack of intresting songwriting...
Centipede Hz is indie experimental psych/pop band Animal Collective’s follow up to their great 2009 album, Merriweather Post Pavilion. That record showcased the band’s poppier and more accessible side and became their most successful album, both critically and financially. Their new album moves away from that catchier sound and back into the realm hectic psychedelia, with mixed results.
The opening track, Moonjock, is a good example of the general sound of the album: often indecipherable or buried vocals, dozens of sound effects and disappointing songwriting. These traits are again exemplified on the third song Rosie Oh, a rather bland track that effectively demonstrates much of what’s problematic with the album. It’s filled with weird sonic textures and effects that bury most of what’s actually interesting in suffocating nonsense; the focus seems to have been on packing in noise rather than recording a well crafted song. Centipede Hz is just packed to the gills with sound, and not much of it aids the songs, which end up being cluttered. On the track Wide Eyed, there’s more room and less noise, but on the whole it’s not particularly exciting and doesn’t go anywhere interesting, issues which plague Mercury Man and Pulleys as well.
The second song, Today’s Supernatural, while still hectic and weird, is by far the best on the album. It’s driven by a swelling and arpeggiating synth and rhythmic bongos that make it surprisingly catchy- it’s chorus draws you back into its wavering sound. It builds to a rewarding finish, a trait missing from many other songs. Also on the good side, are Applesauce, Monkey Riches and New Town Burnout. Applesauce and Monkey Riches are again crowded in effects, but they’re put to better use here. Applesauce has some nice overdubbed vocal harmonies and some real excitement to it. Monkey Riches is particularly crammed with sound, but layers of noise really aid the song in this case, and don’t just feel tacked on, giving it energy and feeling. New Town Burnout, one of the two songs written by band member Panda Bear, has a huge, heavy beat and some interesting lyrics, the combination of which add some much needed darkness and emotion to the record, in addition to diversifying the sound.
While Centipede Hz is by no means a bad album, it’s not great either, and certainly not as good as Merriweather Post Pavilion. There are a number of decent songs on here, and a few great ones, but in the end, a claustrophobia educing level out of layered noise can’t hide the fact that quite a lot of this album’s songs sound rather similar. Especially towards the end, I feel like the tracks tend to blend together. I’m wary of making a pretentious analogy here, but I feel like the music on Centipede Hz is a lot like the cover art: busy, weird, dense and somewhat off-putting; both would have been ultimately more interesting had they been better thought through and stripped down to a more satisfying core.