Review Summary: Things We Lost in the Clutter
What I’m about to say might not appear particularly momentous or important, but it’s taken me months to admit this to myself, let alone work up the courage to try and explain it to people, so here goes:
I don’t like Centipede Hz
as much as I love other Animal Collective albums, and that’s not my fault.
Cut me some slack here; if you’ve ever strolled through an indie thread on this prestigious website, then chances are this isn’t the first time you’ve heard how grossly over-devoted to the Baltimore quartet I am. I’m the type of person who got super hyped about Centipede Hz
. I’ve seen them twice live and didn’t leave disappointed either time. I consider every album in their discography between Here Comes the Indian
and Merriweather Post Pavilion
to be one of the best albums ever. So when Centipede
dropped in late August and just, sort of… wasn’t, I, like a sad-sack in a failing relationship, made the ordeal about me. It was my
fault I thought “Today’s Supernatural” was a cluttered mess and didn’t feel anything listening to “Monkey Riches” and had the sacrilegious thought that Panda Bear actually sounds kind of shi
tty on this record. Of all the letdowns of 2012, this is the one that hurt
But! Months and bottles and that scene from Good Will Hunting
later, I’ve come to know in my heart of hearts that my general dissatisfaction with Centipede Hz
was not my fault. Well, not totally
, anyway. This album made clear to me that one of the most crucial things I’d connected to with prior Animal Collective albums was how they sounded. I always tried explaining the group to people with their more obvious traits like how at their best they convey childhood innocence amidst a threatening adult world and how they can lodge bizarro pop melodies into your skull so that you bop around like a hippie idiot. While of course, I’d been drawn in by the warm, lush environments of Feels
or the harsher, noisy forest conjured by Indian
’s production, I guess I’d taken for granted that the unique atmospheres Animal Collective are known for from album to album would always be excellently employed to serve the sublimity of the music. On Centipede Hz
, not so much.
Listening to Centipede
is like going through a garage filled with clutter. Centipede Hz
is loaded with so much extraneous doohickeys that the transcendent glee that colors their best work, the sort of thing that encoded “My Girls” and “Did You See The Words” into a million genetic makeups, can’t possibly exist. There’s just too much happening. This is a simple criticism, but one I might as well be upfront about. From what I gather, the general idea for Centipede
was to make it in homage to the brotherly unity of radio, hence the 10 pm listening party (which truly was a special experience) and the interludes that come in like a changing station or an advertisement break. But in making an album so dedicated to being interactive, the personal chord Animal Collective’s best work strikes is lost, and the bloops and thwumps and ear-splitting noises deluxe played on Electric-Who-Cardio-Floox become a distracting nuisance. For example, the much talked about “Johnny Walkerrrr!
” shout-out that pops in at the end of “Rosie, Oh” has the subtlety of a blinking neon sign, ostentatious to the point where I feel more obligated to talk about that and the ceaseless
pile-ons that adorn the track than I do about the song itself, which, I don’t know, is pretty Panda Bear-y, I guess.
I’ve heard and read incredibly clever and brilliant defenses of this sonic overload from Robin and Lewis (the former actually describing it as a “muffled conversation”--as if!), but I could never wrap my head around them. And this is the fault of mine: I’ve pigeonholed the band into being something to me that they have absolutely no obligation to be. My narrative for Animal Collective is, in simple, stupid terms, that they’re on this never-ending quest to tap into a universal but abstract truth that guides how people think by deconstructing and reimagining pop music. Of course, I impose this on them because that is a narrative I’m extremely into personally (which I don’t think is critically problematic, necessarily; why do you like the bands you like?), but Centipede
doesn’t fit that at all. Centipede Hz
exists outside of that narrative as the “one-off” album, the “let’s just jam and have a good time” record, the anti-pop, anti-fan King of Limbs
-type album I really didn’t want it to be.
Critically, it’s difficult to approach albums like this. Do I need to reconsider the very reasons why I love this band unconditionally to accept this beast into my love? Or write it off, admit defeat, say “I don’t get it,” and move on? I chose neither. When it dropped, I had two weeks to come up with something for y’all; on the one hand I felt obligated to rush to its defense because I anticipated a backlash I didn’t think it truly deserved, but I wasn’t entirely sold on it either, so I passed it to Robin who wrote the glowing review I wish I could’ve mustered.
But the happy ending, the realization that dawned on me after months of stewing and the reason I’m writing this piece today is: whatever
. Centipede Hz
is still better than a hefty chunk of the shit
that came out this year, and just because it doesn’t stack up to the incredible power of the previous five
albums (not including Person Pitch
, and Down There
!) doesn’t make it worth pissing on. Not at all. The past four months, I’ve played the A-side of this album in my car pretty regularly and yeah, this thing has its ups. Tracks like “Moonjock,” “Applesauce,” “Wide-Eyed,” and “Amanita” are fine examples of the potential this sonic project had; the opener and closer both pound, soar and evolve from contorted, jerky beginnings into anthems. “Applesauce” and “Wide-Eyed” don’t take on the grody and confrontationally grimy tone the rest of the album does and instead take the aesthetic to a more plaintive place (and shit
if Deakin’s first feature in forever isn’t jaw-droppingly incredible; that “what’s the change for the better/ for the child that learns not to cry?” lyric is easily the best one on the album). I’ve even grown to appreciate “Today’s Supernatural” as a single. Though it isn’t the infinitely
better “Honeycomb,” it showcases Animal Collective’s incredible panache for tearing apart a time signature; the things they do to 3/4 in that song are delectably abusive. And the B-Side of the album, where I find the record to start getting pretty gross and tedious? Well… whatever.
Yes, whatever; all the battles this stupid thing caused and the dilemmas I had were entirely constructed anyway by my being married to this romantic idea that Animal Collective can do no wrong
. Of course they can. And I can keep on loving them even if I’m not totally with them. It’s not my fault. And neither is it theirs.