Centipede Hz is a sidestep for Animal Collective after the electronic pop overtones of Merriweather Post Pavillion. It's a more prickly and weird album, and definitely contains a lot of Avey Tare who is the more aggressively experimental of their two main songwriters. Whereas Panda Bear tends to compose the band's most harmonic, conventionally pretty, and restrained songs ('Brothersport' excluded), Tare often works as the band's id, abandoning himself with yelping gusto into states that often sound ecstatic and sometimes sound anxious or fearful. On Centipede Hz he is at his most shamanic, constantly gnashing at the edges of the music.
So it's not as easy to get into this record as Merriweather. The best way to approach it is to take Tare's invitation in 'Today's Supernatural' at face value and realise it's "not a question for your head". This is classic psychedelic counsel to detach oneself, similar to "tune in, turn on and drop out". The truth is Centipede Hz is a ferociously psychedelic album. It is multiple sounding and amorphous with a busy surface (it's no wonder they named it after an arthropod which has so many legs moving at once). You can hear this multiplicity most clearly when the vocal melody begins on 'Moonjock' and the music bulges and ripples in a way that seems to threaten to change into something else entirely then back again in an instant. Listening to it, I kept thinking (pretentiously, tangentially, and subjectively, I know) of that enigmatic Captain Beefheart line that has come to sum up the possibilities of psychedelic music for me, "a squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous". 'Moonjock' sounds "fast and bulbous".
Once you detach, listen a few times, and break through the panicky and quick surface of Centipede Hz, it rewards richly. The jewel for me is the album's lead single 'Today's Supernatural' - a four minute exhortation to abandon oneself along the lines of Merriweather's now famous line "if I could just leave my body for a night". I think the song's middle eight is one of the finest things on any of their records, a short sequence that rises and falls like the edge of a teacup ride in a funfair and which resolves itself in a beautiful curl of melody.
There is more than a touch of the funfair to Centipede Hz, perhaps a touch of the circus too. As with the funfair and circus, the noise and mayhem sometimes derange and give way to darkness. Songs like 'Rosie Oh', 'Father Time' and 'Monkey Riches' have spooky undercurrents of delirium that make them first cousins of the Olivia Tremor Control's music and grandchildren of John Lennon's 'For the Benefit of Mr Kite'. Many of the songs end on discordant notes too. The maniacal-mechanical laugh at the end of 'Wide Eyes', for example, is terrifying.
The loose concept behind Centipede Hz is that it's inspired by the band members messing around with short wave radio dials as children and imagining an enormous atmosphere charged with mysterious music and possibility. In spite of its deceptively cluttered surface, it is an expansive seeker type of an album in the mode of much American psychedelia. Animal Collective are explorers on that old-as-the-hills quest to dissolve the self into the universal and (along with their equally important live shows) every album is a new step on that journey. When the last song 'Amanita' grinds to its almost cartoonish halt, the feeling is one of exhaustion but also of having participated in something bold and pure. We're one step further beyond.
(PS - Welcome back Deakin).