How many Animals does it take to form a Collective? Two, officially. This minimum quorum has ensured maximum wriggle room for such an expanding, contracting band of psychedelic brothers, originally from Baltimore. They go by aliases – Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin, Geologist – and don’t always all turn up; all of which just adds to the Collective’s burgeoning myth.
They’re prolific too, as befits the head boys of the underground. There have been non-AnCo solo releases from both Bear and Tare in the months between the band’s breakthrough 2009 album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and the imminent release of Centipede Hz (the Collective’s ninth album, more or less); not to mention a visual live album, ODDSAC, one EP, two cassette-only giveaways and a non-album single – and a live installation at the Guggenheim. Merriweather was the record that made great swaths of casual listeners sit up and notice the strange, busy, woozy music wafting up out of the US underground, an encampment that has been growing beards for the past decade.
It might not have been the new weird America’s Nevermind but it broke the Billboard top 20, topped many an album-of-the-year list and made Animal Collective the most name-dropped beatniks nouveaux in many a straight record collection – a totem band, like a Radiohead bigger on hallucinogenics, chanting and camping out. “I’m going hiking,” states Amanita, the closing track on Centipede Hz. “Are you coming hiking?”
One of the autumn’s key releases, Centipede Hz probably brings AnCo another molecule’s width closer to the mainstream; retaining all the dislocation and unevenness that their fans treasure but remapping it on to more recognisable instruments. It sees all four Animals back on board for the first time since 2007’s Strawberry Jam, allowing this determinedly over-saturated band to cram yet more sound and rhythm on to each track here. Someone’s even smuggled a kids’ choir into Father Time, then disguised them. The fundamental idea that runs through Centipede Hz is one of radio signals lost in space, the crackle and blooping that has enamoured the audiophiles of the perverse since radio began.
Guitarist Deakin – Joshua Dibb on his passport – sat out Merriweather. His return is most explicitly felt when he sings Wide Eyed, a burbling song that co, insistentmes pretty near to pop music, albeit pop with non-western polyrhythms and some Dr Who sound effects from the 1980s. More holistically, much of Centipede Hz was demoed with all four men in the same room, playing quaint indigenous instruments (“drumkits” and “guitars”). On recent records this far-flung band had file-shared digitally processed snatches of sound with each other, pinging them between Portugal (Panda Bear), LA (Avey Tare) and DC (Geologist).
Animal Collective have usually been at their most collective when vocalising, chanting together in formations that recalled the Beach Boys underwater. Here, though, the impression of all animals melting into one is less marked, with Avey Tare yelling a lot of lead vocals. Where Merriweather was amniotic and ravey, Centipede rocks a little harder. AnCo’s febrile music hinges on a galumphing sense of abandon, but the textures of Centipede amp up the raucousness. Amid pell-mell songs such as standout Today’s Supernatural there is rarely a pause to draw breath on this fine follow-up; one in a hurry, as befits its many pairs of legs..