Scott Creney

REVIEWED IN WORDS Animal Collective – Centipede Hz (Domino)

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By Scott Creney

I’ve been putting off this review because I hoped I’d eventually hear something that changed my mind. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

I write this as someone who has had immense respect for Animal Collective. I saw them play a show in Atlanta back in 2007 that remains one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. Give these guys credit — they pretty much single-handedly changed the sound of US indie. But that success comes with a price. And with Centipede Hz, Animal Collective needed to take a step forward or else they would end up sounding as unimaginative as their imitators.

Let’s go ahead and say they didn’t take that step. This is the first Animal Collective album to resemble the one before it, the first that suggests they may have run out of ideas.

Which is too bad, because there’s a lot of music being made right now that is, let’s put this charitably, influenced by AC. There’s this one band in town called Reptar, a sort of perfect [1] combination of Animal Collective and Vampire Weekend. When their debut album came out a few months ago, people joked that Reptar sounded a lot like Animal Collective. Well now they can say that Animal Collective sounds like Reptar [2].

By the way, that mouth looks a lot like the cover of Centipede Hz. And the video’s nearly two years old.  There are two schools of creative thought. One says you should keep up with everything going on, so you don’t repeat yourself, so you have a better idea how your work might be received. The other school of thought believes that exposure to other people’s art will only contaminate your vision. Centipede Hz should serve as a warning — this is what happens when you stop paying attention. This is like The Beatles in 1967 releasing an album that sounds like The Dave Clark Five. Or more accurately, if Kurt Cobain had lived long enough to make an album that sounded like Seven Mary Three.

Remember when Radiohead’s Hail To The Thief album came out? Every review said the album was a return to the guitar-oriented rock songs of Ok Computer. Some critics even compared it to The Bends. Well if you’ve heard Hail To The Thief you know that was all a bunch of press-release generated bullshit. [3] And the hype surrounding Centipede Hz is the biggest bunch of bullshit to come down the knee-jerk critical turnpike since Hail to the Thief.

Myth Number One: AC got together in a room for three months and now they sound like a real band.

I don’t doubt they played together, but this album doesn’t sound any more ‘bandy’ than the last one did. And it sounds substantially less ‘bandy’ than Feels or Strawberry Jam.

Myth Number Two: This record is guitar-based.

Did you hear any guitars in that song I posted? Me neither [4]. ‘Moonjock’, the first song on the album, has a guitar in its first 20 seconds, but there’s more guitar in Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ than in the entirety of Centipede Hz. To quote my CB colleague Brigette Herron, I’m starting to think that music critics don’t know what a guitar actually sounds like.

Myth Number Three: Panda Bear is playing a full drum kit.

It sure doesn’t sound like it. Maybe the drums have been processed or cut up to the point where they no longer sound like drums. But for the most part, this album sounds very, very much like Merriweather. The fact that nobody writes this says more about Animal Collective’s position as one of the biggest bands in the world than it does about the content on their new album.

With no new sounds to offer, Centipede Hz is force to live and die on the strength of its songs — you know, the melodies and the lyrics. If you’re familiar with the work of Animal Collective, then you know this is going to be a problem. Even the best AC albums have only had a handful of songs you were going to go around whistling (you have 10 seconds to remember how ‘Loch Raven’ goes — quick). But in the past, the sonics were always so gloriously beautiful that it didn’t matter.

Which leads me to the uncomfortable admission that I’ve been trying to ignore for over a month now: The new Animal Collective album bores the shit out of me. It’s tedious and unimaginative. It is lazy in every conceivable sense — lyrically, melodically, sonically, creatively. It lacks imagination, inspiration, and some other word that starts with the letter ‘i’ [5]. I take no joy in saying this.

Animal Collective talk about their friendship and loyalty in interviews. And that’s one part of this album’s hype cycle that I actually believe. Because Panda Bear’s Person Pitch still pisses all over everything else AC have ever recorded. So why else would he keep putting his energy into AC, taking a backseat to lesser talents, unless it was for their friendship?

I hope they had a good time hanging out making Centipede Hz. But I think it’s the worst thing they’ve ever done. You don’t need this album. Nobody needs this album. Try again, guys. Try something different.

[1] I use this word in the least qualitatitve sense.
[2] Ben Allen produced Reptar’s EP and album between working on MMP and Centipede. The fact that AC didn’t care (or seem to notice) that their producer basically grafted the sound from their most successful album onto another band speaks volumes about some of the problems with Centipede. One can only imagine the ass-kicking Lennon or McCartney would have given George Martin if he’d spent 1966 making other bands sound like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows.’
[3] And if you paid actual money for it, like I did, you’re probably still a little angry about the whole thing.
[4] I should point out that I have absolutely zero pro-guitar bias.
[5] insolence? individuality? incandescence? improbability?

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