What can an artist do when the world declares they’ve made their "Guernica"" To accept passively is a popular (not to mention totally legitimate) option. A masterpiece doesn’t need its artist by its side to shift and evolve with the changing times. It can and will speak for itself. Alternatively, the creator can do as Animal Collective have done with "Centipede Hz" and produce one of the most exciting, manic, and original records of their career.
"Hz" seeps out of your stereo system like a signal caught and channelled through one of the gigantic satellite dishes perpetually spinning at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute. It’s a tour of the wide breadth of intergalactic frequencies, surfing from song to song through a crackling stew of twisted amusement park fanfare and helium-laced martian talk show freakouts. The distant, fade-in-fade-out production reinforces this overall alien-radio aesthetic, but is unfortunately a little bit hit or miss. Each distinct nugget of each song is given an exact elevation in the mix. At best, this makes the music seem physical and defined, but addictive melodies sometimes feel just out of reach.
It’s clear from the first pixelated drum splat that this isn’t going to be "Merriweather Post Pavilion 2", but that doesn’t mean the Collective are success-averse. All sputtering-fuzz aside, this is pure pop. The band is more open with us than ever before. “Wide Eyed”, a sincere tune driven by a strikingly fragile vocal performance, is one of their prettiest yet. Even tracks that at first seem to ask too much end up reluctantly revealing hooks in a way that feels almost...human. Give the gravel shaking “New Town Burnout” a few minutes and you might find the guys asking for a little bit of sympathy. That’s totally new.
This is a heavy product, about an hour in length, and I don’t even want to tell you what they’ll charge you at a record store. That being said, the band hardly wastes your time. Excess song-length is spent juxtaposing the soft and the hard, or establishing mood. Particularly with the latter, they’re incredible successful. They’ve tied together cohesive pieces before, but this seems more natural, bound through careful sonic chemistry, whether by accident or design, to leave us with a whole that flows effortlessly.
What makes this album essential is its ability to dazzle, frighten, and comfort all at once. Some might have you believe it’s reactionary. Not so. Instead, it’s continuously revolutionary, pushing limits in the way of "Strawberry Jam" and earlier work without sacrificing the pop aesthetic of their as-of-now “magnum opus”. I feel confident in saying the best is yet to come.