Centipede Hz, the new album from electronic soundscape creators Animal Collective, thunders out of the gate like none of their other work. The lead track “Moonrock” is a feverish ride on the back of the thunderous beat of a live kick drum. And that’s not the end of the live instruments: guitars strum, keyboards hit, and you can almost hear the drumsticks clacking. For most bands, this isn’t big news. But for Animal Collective, an outfit largely famous for their abstruse textural landscapes, it’s a revolution.
The quartet has always had a bit of an identity problem. They’re an experimental band who can make droning long-form songs that are supremely challenging to the average listener; they’re the pop band whose tracks “My Girls” or “Summertime Clothes” wouldn’t sound out of place synced to commercials for hybrid cars; they’re the band who, according to the internet, was “created by/for/on the internet,” yet they were so terrified of their music leaking online that every review copy came with a 300-word excoriation of file-sharers and a timeline for when it was permitted to mention having heard it on Facebook (August 1).
It’s hard to think that the same group that made “My Girls” also made aggressively rocking, inaccessible tracks like “Transverse Temporal Gyrus Part 1.” But perhaps this willingness to veer around, to make left turn after left turn, is what Geologist, the man largely responsible for the band’s heady layers of samples, means when he says Hz “feels like an Animal Collective record” since change is the only thing constant across their catalog. “We like to feel like every record is a bit of an unexpected departure,” he says.
But the band’s newfound focus on live instruments doesn’t mean they’ve come back down to earth too much. In addition to forging new musical terrain, Hz is also a full-on concept album, focusing on “the afterlife of radio signals.” There are garbled radio noises in the intros and outros of most songs, out of which swell songs, like “Father Time,” in which a ghostly semi-tropicalia beat shimmers into life before fading away.
In fact, much of the album feels like woozy station surfing, which is a good way to think of the non- teleological evolution of the band. If Centipede Hz isn’t for you, change the dial. “There’s enough in our discography that you can sort of pick and choose what sides of Animal Collective you like,” says Geologist, “without—I hope— being offended when we do something you don’t like.”