But something is changing. As the Internet has claimed an unquestioned dominance over 21st century life, this once exclusive and underground world has come to the forefront of serious popular interest, and the success of indie band Animal Collective reflects that shift. Animal Collective has never gotten significant radio airtime, won a Grammy, or been featured as a guest artist on the latest season of American Idol. Nonetheless, there’s no question that the music world is abuzz with Animal Collective fever. Stereogum called their 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavillion “one of the landmark American albums of the century”—big words for an album that most Americans don’t even know about.
Even though the group has been together since 1999, it wasn’t until the 2009 release of Merriweather Post Pavillion that the group would truly ascend to indie stardom. This isn’t to say that their preceding albums were inferior or less sophisticated than MPP, but the nearly universal (and at times, tyrannical) power of indie music blogs like Pitchfork and Stereogum at the close of the last decade made Animal Collective the group to know about. This isn’t an exaggeration—Pitchfork alone has been credited with the success of Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, and many more.
Still, we must consider the origins of this “indie” fan base and evaluate its lasting power. Merriweather was undeniably a masterpiece, with its grand synth beats, dramatic style, and visionary experimentation, but how long can the moniker “Pitchfork’s Best Album of 2009” sustain interest in the indie music world? Centipede Hz, Animal Collective’s newest album, will answer
Centipede Hz isn’t a particularly groundbreaking album for the group, drawing heavily from the more experimental style of their past. The return of Joshua Dibb (known as Deakin) after a five-year hiatus also suggests a turn back towards Animal Collective’s more humble beginnings. While there are significant strands of Merriweather Post Pavillion’s aesthetic in Centipede Hz, it is by no means its successor. There are the fun and upbeat tracks like “Moonjock” and “Applesauce,” full of the playful expressionism that characterizes much of Animal Collective’s work. Also found in Centipede Hz is an emphasis on exotic and supernatural sounds, hinting to previous songs like “Peacebone” and
Centipede Hz makes more with less. Through the album’s bizarre mix of electronic and industrial sounds, the harmonies tend to clash with each other and create a disjointed and alienating ethos that extends through most of the work. However, every song demands to be treated in its own right. “Today’s Supernatural” and “Monkey Riches” emphasize a melodic confrontation of vocals, electronics, and percussion, while still bestowing a distinct sound on every piece.
What truly separates Centipede Hz from its predecessors, however, is the fast-paced, overwhelming structure of the album. Each track pummels you in jarring and unexpected ways; there’s never really a chance to take a breath before delving in again. Merriweather’s endearingly soothing tracks, such as “Bluish” or “No More Running,” find no second home in Centipede Hz. After a dizzying 53 minutes, the album closes with “Amanita,” whose lyrics ask unanswered questions and lament, “What have we done, what have we done? / Fantasy is falling down,” all while a tumultuous and scattered hodgepodge of sounds climaxes and abruptly drops into silence.
At its core, Centipede Hz wrestles with Animal Collective’s future in a world where they’ve won it big but are destined to disappoint. The critics won’t like Centipede as much as Merriweather. Nonetheless, the album is a good listen and worth your time, but don’t expect the delicacy of Merriweather. Centipede Hz forces Animal Collective to evaluate itself after a decade of creative evolution and growing popular interest— a reflection full of acrimony and frustration. On “Monkey Riches,” Avey Tare sings, “Why am I still looking for a golden age? / You tell me that I ought to have a golden wage… it makes a monkey wretch / it makes a monkey rich.” In a world where fame is gained through the approval of a musical oligarchy, wretchedness and wealth seem to define exactly where Animal Collective has found itself after a dizzying odyssey of success and an uncertain future in the age of the Internet.