Baltimore experimental quartet Animal Collective recently described their ninth studio album, Centipede Hz, as ‘less ambient” than their previous output. The fact that its eleven tracks are still some of the most trippy, frazzled and disorientating you’ll hear all year says everything about just how utterly freaked-out their psychedelic electro sound usually is.
Co-produced with Ben Allen, the man behind 2009 predecessor Merriweather Post Pavilion, the record has its calmer moments, such as the Peter Gabriel-inspired world music of “Pulleys” and the Flaming Lips-esque prog-pop of “Rosie Oh,” one of several Panda Bear-sung tracks which provide a much-needed respite from the yelping tones of frontman Avey Tare.
But these calm moments are few and far between on an album that thrives on assaulting the senses. This fractious approach can be thrilling, as on “Today’s Supernatural” which combines swirling organs with strangely seductive bossa-nova beats to create a magical carnival vibe; the sci-fi tinged Afrobeat of “Wide Eyed,” which rather appropriately ends with a burst of maniacal laughter; and the Hawaiian wonky-pop of “Father Time.”
Centipede Hz can also be headache-inducing. “Monkey Riches” splutters and squeals along for seven torturous minutes without ever approaching anything resembling a melody, “Applesauce” appears to think nonsensical lyrics (“I’ll eat a mango and I’ll feel like a little honeycomb”) will compensate for its druggy avant-garde racket, while even the most ardent fans of Animal Collective’s echo-laden noise-pop formula will struggle to find much to admire on the aimless “Mercury Man.”
Of course, Animal Collective have built their career on creating challenging and explosive soundscapes, and there’s still plenty of occasions when their unique otherworldliness enthrals. But considering their more accessible and approachable claims, it’s disappointing that Centipede Hz is the kind of record which you’ve heard all before.