I downloaded Animal Collective’s new album Centipede Hz, and decided I would chart what I noticed as I listened to it and surfed the internet doing research on the Harlem Renaissance. (FYI, it looks like a grad student at Columbia recently unearthed a previously unknown-to-exist Claude McKay manuscript. Pretty significant news, via NYTimes.)
Opens with: industrial assault. Bang bang bang. Vocals kick in. Fluidic. Zany wheezing computer complications overlay the words and the beats become multidimensional. Words arrive, punch punch punch. Zip, modulate. Maybe three different songs are happening at the same time. Drum goes from digital program sound to drum set sound. Quirky computer monster on speed. Jolt. March, but more punctuated. Shouting, blurry. Stops abruptly. Space frequency. Radio redialed. A television undersea, being observed from out space.
Track two, electric organ. Beat continues the hyper-energetic rhythm. Vocal distortion, reverb like crazy. Echo. Echo. Music starts, stops, stutters, speeds up, slows down, comes unplugged and then replugged. Perhaps I am now hearing an accordion. Sing-songy. Ramp up. I hear the word “Baltimore,” but most of the other words so far have been drowned out in the murky fusion of noise. “I made a shadow with my hand [something about your heart] I’ll never be the same.” Then everything crescendos. Rush up and scream wall. Then fade. Again, this track closes the same way as the first track. A declining modulation, an opening up, a quieting down, a loopy flattening.
Track three, guitar. Garbled electrical junction boxes kick in simultaneously with vocals. Cannot determine individual words. Sounds work both in harmony and discordance. Some chant, maybe “My own, my own….” Or else, “Ah on, ah on.” Sixties-era guitar being revived by twenty-first century resuscitation methods. Song ends with a robot saying “Johnny Walker.”
Track four, “I feel like a little honey could roll.” Or something like that. More dreamy electrical starts and stops. Zap, zip. A drum machine and a video game. Very upbeat. I imagine the vocals existing in a swamp, coming up for air in different locations. This song is called “Applesauce.” Scream. Lull. Start up and slow down, a bridge to another bridge to another bridge. Big long ending, guitar slows.
Track five opens with the sound of sizzling. Circuits frying? Something about “dream time,” and this one reminds me of The Beatles. (I’m being generous with that comparison.) This album so far reminds me of a movie that was made entirely on a blue screen, mixed with an episode of the children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba. The lead singer in this band has a voice that reminds me of that band who did the soundtrack for Malcolm in the Middle. Who was that? They Might Be Giants. Is the lead singer from They Might Be Giants the same lead singer for Animal Collective? I would believe it, if you told me yes. I’m bored of this track. Thankfully it’ll be over soon. The end is okay. It turns into a feedback loop thing with like some eighties movie and some robot noises.
Track six is slower. The vocals pretty much ruin the music. Probably I might enjoy this album more if it was just instrumental. As it stands, I have to skip to the next song because this track is displeasing.
Track seven opens with backmasking, which is cool, but then it starts in with its familiar electrical drums and its multi-layered and indecipherable vocals. I get the sense that this track might be one I could get with if I listened to it a bunch more times or if I saw an awesome video for it. But right now, it’s not making a lasting impression.
Skip to track eight. More electrical beats, but this time there’s fewer convolutions. The vocals aren’t as unappealing in this track. Or, at least for the first few bars. As the track progresses I become less and less enchanted with it. Well, hold on. It starts getting more interesting. I think a meta moment just happened. “Makes me wonder how I even wrote this song.” As it comes to an end, I’ve decided it’s pretty solid in comparison with the other tracks.
Track nine, same opening: electrical bleep-bloop zip-zap for a moment or two and then indecipherable vocals kick in. Singer does a crooner thing. Like other tracks, this one seems to mix a Caribbean, Vampire Weekend-type vibe, with an electric dance vibe, with a quirky Krautrock-style zone-out meets methamphetamine-fueled drums.
Penultimate track is called “Pulleys.” It comes on chugging. Sort of hippie sounding. Earlier, when I compared a track to The Beatles, it was this same thing: the hippie Beatles. But then, it gets more chant-driven and (I hate to say it) I envision this being played at a dude bro party, like one of those parties where a bunch of topless muscled and tanned dudes in cargo shorts and tilted baseball caps are playing bean bag toss or whatever it’s called while a bunch of perfumed bottle-blondes in bikini tops and cut-off shorts do jello shots out of each other’s bellybuttons. (I actually walk past a frat house that hosts parties matching that exact description, everyday on my way to the English building.)
Final track. Asian-influenced sound. Sort of burned out on this album. To be generous, it’s very cohesive. To be critical, the whole thing sort of sounds the same. To be generous, it’s very energetic. To be critical, it doesn’t vary its intensity much: in other words, it hits a pitch and remains there for the duration of the album. It repeats the same ideas over and over. Of course, this observation need not be taken negatively. Repetition is powerful and shouldn’t be disparaged. Then again, monotony is the curse of everyday life and to be reminded of this curse from our musical choices could be seen as unappealing. Then again, we often repeat things we find pleasurable, so there is obviously a connection between repetition and desire.
Someone once told me you never really hear an album until you listen to it three times. The likelihood that I will listen to this album two more times is very low, so I’ll probably never really hear it. Unfortunately, my first impression makes me want to clean my ears out with a cocktail of Black Cobra and Fiona Apple. Sorry Animal collective, this one just didn’t do it for me.