Animal Collective’s ‘Centipede Hz’ Turns 10

In this particular case, like another certain rock album released 10 years prior, the songs on Centipede Hz are stitched together like overlapping radio transmissions, albeit mired in sludgy cosmic interference. On each side of the record, tracks bleed together like a new signal is being picked up the second another fades, left behind as the distance from its source grows too great. The big rock climax that tears “Today’s Supernatural” down with a threshing scream dissipates into the soft opening pulse of “Rosie Oh.” At the end of “Wide Eyed,” noteworthy for sporting Deakin’s first vocal lead for the band, the titular refrain gets swallowed up by the looping fragments of a radio jingle, mimicking static from another signal breaking through on the same frequency.

But it’s not just these mini-suites and radio ephemera that sells the record’s concept; Centipede Hz is just structured like a damn good album for a long drive. Its initial run of songs — the opening pair of “Moonjock” into “Today’s Supernatural” especially — serve as the high-octane jolt of energy that comes from speeding down that first stretch of open road. The album’s middle passage slows the tempo down around “Father Time” and “New Town Burnout,” providing necessary variety right around when a listener might be settling into their trip. And, naturally, the whole thing culminates in a rejuvenating second wind, with the final rush of “Amanita” practically made for slamming the pedal down on an empty straightaway.

Though the aforementioned early assessments of the mix singled out Deakin as the album’s sonic mastermind, it’s Geologist — long-underappreciated in his role as the texturalist bolstering the voices of Animal Collective — who was most overlooked at the time for defining the sound of Centipede Hz. His sampling litters nearly every moment of the record, from the collage of radio ads and soundbites punctuating “Rosie Oh” to the phantom choirs that haunt “New Town Burnout” and “Mercury Man.” As hasty as critics made the album out to be on release, Geologist puts an immense degree of intentionality into the placement of certain elements, as well as when to crowd the mix as opposed to letting melodies breathe. Even his methods of choosing samples came from purposeful decision-making — deliberately eschewing his penchant for field recordings in favor of a spaced-out remove befitting Centipede Hz‘s alien voyage.

If there’s one thing that carries over from Merriweather Post Pavilionthough, it’s Animal Collective’s refusal to lose sight of the melodies and hooks that allow their songs to glide, even when the songs grow chaotic with noisy accoutrement. Late album cut “Mercury Man” has long been an underrated favorite of mine for this reason , carrying Avey Tare’s most emotive vocal performance on the record — dealing with the strains of distance in a relationship — given additional pathos through trembling distortion and a tender piano melody backing his singing.

As expected from an album mimicking various radio transmissions encountered on a trip, Centipede Hz often deals in itinerant matters as on “Mercury Man.” Where Avey Tare’s take on that theme is filled with figurative worry, Panda Bear’s portrays the same subject on “New Town Burnout” with more direct longing for a return home after a long time away , drawing out repetitions of “Lift this weight/ Leave my light on.” It’s not all desire in the wake of absence, though. “Moonjock” immediately introduces the theme with memories of family road trips in childhood, rendered as stories from “our covered wagon times.” “Amanita” ends the album with the other definition of “trip,” musing on the tradition of storytelling during travel, until the hallucinogenic properties of the titular mushroom kick in and Avey Tare sings about returning to nature with the promise of bringing back stories of his own.

The record’s lyricism feels especially vital for how it ties being in transit into the yearning for place that comes with age. By Centipede Hz‘s release, Animal Collective were in their 30s. The youthful exuberance heard on Sung Tongs had long since passed, but the band still found themselves (as on “Moonjock”) considering what that era meant for their years ahead. “Applesauce” is the main track tackling this head-on, with lines such as “When I was young I thought fruit was an infinite thing/ I’d be sad to wake up and find all of my cherries are charred or they’re rotted to ruin” that skew equally parts wistful and anxious. “Father Time” sees Avey Tare confronting mortality as well, now old enough to write about chance encounters with the specters of those who “passed a long time ago.” There’s a certain poignancy to moments like these that make Centipede Hz especially strong in retrospect, seeing Animal Collective see their place in life with newfound maturity that would blossom even further with time.

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