I had to physically restrain myself a couple of weeks back, and by that I’m not talking about all those leather items your Uncle keeps in his closet.
I’d had the album on pre-release and while this usually isn’t a problem, this time around the band involved had the sheer insensitivity to give a free stream away over a week before the release. Shocking! Every day my fingers were itching to type in the web address to hear the fresh tunes but managed to hold off, as that would dilute one of my favourite things about new music.
There is something wonderful about sliding a new piece of art out from its plastic packaging and poring over liner notes (and as we are on fanart.tv, scanning that badboy in.) I know it sounds weird coming from a man typing on a futuristic internet site devoted to media centres, but nothing will ever beat physical items. MP3s, transparent logos and spinning artwork are stunning, but just a comfort blanket compared to the delicious bounce of a needle as it finds the groove, that reassuring clunk as a CD tray slides into your hi-fi.
The new Animal Collective album was something I’d had on pre-order ever since I heard about it. I came a little late to the Animal Collective party, but made up for it by going back and meeting everybody. (Tortured metaphor for picking up the back catalog.) I first started with Merriweather Post Pavilion, probably their most commercial and populist record which struck a chord with me due to its futuristic Beach Boys vibe, dreamy synths and mind-chewing melodies. Heading back through their previous records you start to realise that this is a band that was never going to stay in one place or with one sound. The closest album to Centipede Hz is probably Strawberry Jam due to its celebratory mood and unrestrained creativity. It’s not as bizarre as something like Danse Manatee which at times feels overwhelming and purposefully obtuse.
It’s hard to know where to start with an album like this. I feel like I could stick my hand into a bag of adjectives and whatever I pulled out would be applicable. I’ve now had it for about two weeks and it’s still revealing new aspects and sounds. It’s such a cliché and such a cop out in the sphere of music reviewing but this album is a ‘grower.’ I try to avoid terms like this when recommending something, as it always seems to imply that it’s hard to listen to, or that great songs do exist on the record and if you don’t like it you somehow “haven’t listened carefully enough.” But in this case it really is relevant. Underneath the clamouring noise and digital bleeps hide some excellent, but somewhat ordinary pop songs. The songs aren’t amazingly complex compositions, but accessible melodies buried under production and (possibly) self indulgence. This need to let it sink in might explain why it’s taken a wee while for me to post this review, though there might be other things to take into account, laziness in particular.
The whole album is held together by what sounds like warped radio frequencies that chop and cut between (and sometimes during) the tracks. In this way it uses a similar framing device as Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf, but where that album detailed driving through the desert, this album is driving underwater or out into space. It is often disconcerting, particularly on a initial listens, but also imbues the album with a bewildering energy.
The songs are strong for the most part, Today’s Supernatural, Pulleys and Monkey Riches in particular have a way of worming their way into your subconscious and bursting out at inopportune times such as trying to purchase bananas in the supermarket. It’s certainly a lot more musically upbeat than Merriweather Post Pavilion even if the subject matter isn’t. Panda Bear is back into full drumming mode, and indeed the whole band feels more energized – possibly due to returning guitarist/member Deakin. Rather than triggering samples you get the feeling that they were back to having fun making sounds and bashing out rhythms. It’s more varied, treading a variety of styles and for the most part holding them together on the tightrope. Today’s Supernatural and Father Time have a Latin feel to them, almost like The Mars Volta being fed synthesizers, while the reflective Pulleys feels closer to achieving that old chestnut of lighters being waved and held aloft in the sky.
Lyrically it’s dealing with themes of confusion and nostalgia, almost as a reaction to blissed out drones of Merriweather. Monkey Riches seems to deal with confusion about the future, careers and looking back to a better time while New Town Burnout appears to be about moving on and leaving your past at the door. In-between these self reflective segments are some slightly more abstract ideas – I’m still trying to work out what a “bionic hee-haw” is and what it represents, and I would certainly aim to keep any children away from an “erratic see-saw.” Seems like the perfect recipe for some kind of horrific hospital-based visit.
It’s a very good album, and almost certainly will be one of my favorites for this year, but it’s hard to tell whether it will receive as much space in my hallowed Hi-FI as Merriweather Post Pavillion. Either way, it’s certainly off to a good start. It’s been in there long enough for me to get suspicious about what it and the pre-amp are getting up to out of sight. Filthy buggers.