For all of the eager brain-twisting fueling the sound of albums like 2009’s celebrated Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective has always tried to leave signs of pop sensibility buried underneath, as if the group were determined to use the language of emotion to make purely cerebral statements. Because of that, Animal Collective isn’t a band that anyone either likes or dislikes; it’s a band that listeners either get or don’t.
Centipede Hz operates on largely the same frequency as the band’s previous work, appealing to the head via arguments seemingly designed to make the heart think that it’s the one declaring victory. It’s like a manic transmission that’s only being half picked up, leaving the receiver the task of attempting to reconstruct the message from incomplete information. Opening track “Moonjock” lays the groundwork for the rest of the album, offering split-level harmonies from the New Pornographers playbook and a joyously lurching rhythm, both of which are subsumed by a layer of wriggling bleeps laid on top.
“Moonjock” is the first of many songs on Centipede Hz that would have a solid hook to it, if only there wasn’t so much stuff going on. The electronic groans that heave up from the bottom of “Applesauce” compete with the chaotic squiggles on the surface, all of which helps to disguise the song’s borderline-catchy melodicism. “Pulleys” has something of a sinuous slink pulling it forward, while “Wide Eyed” manages to carve out space for its rhythmic hook and doesn’t bury the vocals (by returning member Deakin, back after sitting out Merriweather Post Pavilion), giving it a locked-in straightforwardness reminiscent of some of the best material by The Secret Machines.
But other songs are so densely packed with sonic information that they become nearly impenetrable, though some of the hyperactive experimentation issues curiously vanish when played through actual speakers; Centipede Hz might be the only head-trip album that falls apart when listened to on headphones. As maddening as the band can sometimes be, The Flaming Lips has successfully solved the head/heart debate on plenty of songs that hit straight to the gut before percolating up to the rational mind. Fighting the same battle, Animal Collective runs riot on the head front so thoroughly that it overlooks its own eagerness to please. Instead, Centipede Hz insists that listeners think their way to liking it.