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Thursday, October 4, 2012

New Album from A While Ago - Centipede Hz by Animal Collective

I’m back! Again! Wait…This sounds familiar...

All right, I am going to have to come clean with you… I do not know how much I will be able to blog anymore. You see, the reason why I haven’t been blogging since my “return” is that I transferred to MIT which is… a bit infamous for a heavy workload. To illustrate how bad this can be, about a month ago Mark wrote a really wonderful article on MPP and said “As anyone who knows Elliot can tell you, playing Animal Collective will bring Elliot out of the woodwork like…well…a hipster to a new Animal Collective album. ”. Reading his article indeed “brought me out of the woodwork like a hipster to a new Animal Collective album”, it encouraged me to start writing again; I thought “I HAVE to write a follow up article, I will start right after I finish my work!” Well… this is my follow up… One whole month later…

So I guess I have to change the way I work. I have still been picking up new albums every week, but am now 15 or so albums behind. There is no way I can make all that up. In fact, there is almost no way I can write an article every week anymore (at least not ones as long winded and “well-written” as my previous ones). So here is the deal. I am going to try and put at least SOMETHING up every week. The length of the post will just proportional to how much the album inspires me to write. This will range from long articles like today (being about Animal Collective, I have a lot to say) to half-paragraph long reviews of albums I didn’t like (like if I ever get around to writing about Tenacious D’s Rize of the Fenix). Either way, I hope you enjoy reading my reviews as much as I love writing them.

Ah… the elephant in the room… Centipede Hz came out a month ago… Why now? What happened to the three weeks in “three weeks ago”? Two reasons:
1.  This is MY column dammit and I can arbitrarily create temporal anomalies if I want to (much like I can cry on my birthday if I want to).
2.       Yesterday I played hooky from MIT to travel to Philly and go to an AC concert with John

  Let me start by saying that AC completely blew my mind. The show was absolutely incredible. Trust me when I say this, nothing beats Avey Tare screaming in person. The fact that that man can do that with his voice for 2 hours a day, 4-5 days a week, for months at a time, and NOT sound like Tom Waits (or worse, Bob Dylan) is simply incredible. I also have a hard time believing that they actually PLAY their instruments; guitars simply can’t (or shouldn’t) make noises like that. I will upload pictures to the FACEBOOK soon.
        Back on track: Animal Collective is by far one of my favorite bands of all time for one HUGE reason. Every single one of their albums (that I have) is simultaneously completely different than the others and strangely similar. They all feel like Animal Collective, but with a different feel. Sung Tongs is AC with an acoustic folk feel, Strawberry Jam is AC with a kick-ass rock feel, Feels is AC with a unique feel that can only be described as bizarrely tuned instruments, and MPP is AC with an electro-pop feel. Centipede Hz is the new Animal Collective album, and its feel can be best described as chaotic-analog technology.     
       If you happened to see my last post, you got to see my initial reaction to the album as it streamed online for the first time 2 weeks before the release date. This chaotic feel is apparent right in my reactions; I had no idea what was going on for most of it. What you don’t know was that by the time September 4th rolled around and I got my double LP in the mail, I had already listened to the album over 15 times. I can hear you so enthusiastically shouting “HOLY CRAP! You listened to an album 15 times before it was released?” (in my mind, all my readers are on the edge of their seats when they read my posts). And yes, yes I did. Why? At first I just wanted to understand it, and then soon I was trying to achieve the goal of becoming sick of it before it even dropped. And well… I failed; I am still not sick of the album.

To be fair it isn’t my fault; the album is absolutely incredible. Something about it just prevents me from getting sick of it. Maybe it is the fairly consistent quality of the tracks. Some albums have sections that kinda drag on and wear on the listener. Maybe it is the fact that my favorite tracks, “Moonjock”, “Applesauce”, “Monkey Riches”, and “Amanita” are respectively tracks 1, 4, 8, and 11. That is a pretty perfect distribution over the course of the album. I never really have to wait for the “good part”.

Maybe it is the fact that the album flows together super well. The whole concept that Animal Collective was going for was a radio transmission with music going in and out as it overlapped with static and each other. This means that every song has a really interesting “mini-song” at the beginning and end that serve as transitions between tracks. This makes the individual tracks kind of confusing to listen to, but also makes the album feel really complete. In fact, I know this album so well that I could tell John what track was coming in 45 seconds based only on the type of static that they were playing on stage.

But probably the most likely reason is that CH is just a good collection of songs. I named my favorites above, but every track is really top notch (with the exception of “Rosie Oh”, which I just can’t seem to get behind). “Moonjock” serves as a thumping head banging intro that starts with “This is the new Centipede Hz” and ends with typical AC insanity. “Today’s Supernatural” is the crazy un-hinged single that is terribly fun live (“Letletletletletletletletletlet GO!”). “Applesauce” is probably the masterpiece of the album with its glorious vocal patterns and drums. “Wide Eyed” is the first Animal Collective song written and sung by Deakin and let me tell you, it is a treat.

On the second half we have “New Town Burnout”. This song is clearly Panda Bear’s baby; the fact that it was originally written for his solo work is obvious, yet he managed to work it to feels like an AC song and a good one at that. “Monkey Riches” flows over you like the Ocean on a rocky cove. I didn’t make up that image, a video of waves crashing on rocks was paired with it in the live stream and the image is just too perfect not to mention. The opening drums in “Mercury Man” are simply fantastic as is the drums on the whole song, hell the whole album (John would be mad at me if I didn’t mention the fact that Panda Bear plays drums this time around and that his set uses bongos in lieu of toms). “Amanita” is a fantastic end to the album; it matches the grandeur of the intro “Moonjock” and then kicks it up a notch, an ending reminiscent of Strawberry Jam’s “Derek” and MPP’s “Brother Sport”.

Now that I have talked for a great deal about the successes of the album, I need to bring up its failings. The first complaint that I (and a lot of people have) is evident in my initial reaction, it is dense. While this is typical of AC, CH is particularly hard to understand and parse. In fact, I do NOT recommend listening to it on ear buds. It needs nice headphones or speakers; it NEEDS some space between you and the music. The other “problem” with the album is kinda hilarious given how much I have complimented the album so far; it is simply not that good of an album for Animal Collective.

Yeah, you read that right, CH is not that good of an AC album. I just spent 1000 words drenching it in praise just to conclude it’s not good… But that has less to do with CH as it has to do with AC. For heaven’s sake, when you’re last 4 albums have been MPP, Strawberry Jam, Feels, and Sung Tongs, or as I like to call them, FOUR OF THE GREATEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME, anything less than that level of brilliance appears bad.  And well, it’s not on that level. Something about it is missing.

 I feel that Today’s Supernatural is a huge part of the problem. Each AC album always has a “big song” that kind of defines the feel of the album. For me it is “Who Can Win a Rabbit” off Sung Tongs, “Did You See the Words” off Feels, “Peacebone” off Strawberry Jam, and “My Girls” off MPP.  “Today’s Supernatural” just really doesn’t hold any water to those songs, it is definitely weaker. And though AC is definitely an album oriented band, without that big hit it just doesn’t feel like as strong of an album.

Another thing that a lot of people don’t like is what I started this section with, the general feel of the album. To some it feels over produced, to others it feels too chaotic. I actually really like the feel of CH, in fact I would rate it over Feels, Sung Tongs, and maybe MPP for that exact reason. This is just a part of the AC fan base; there is no agreement over which AC album is best (John loves Feels and MPP). On average however, CH is below the big 4.

But really, if CH was made by almost any other band it would be the gem of their career. The album is stunning and has some undeniably great moments. And well, even if you’re a jaded lover of everything pre-MPP (commonly considered their “pop album” if AC could even have one), you should find comfort in knowing one thing that I believe with all my heart. Centipede Hz is not a sign of decline, AC is still on a roll, and the next album will have a completely different feel and be completely awesome. Who knows, maybe they will adapt this new “dub step” trend I have been hearing so much about. 

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