Jul 08, 2024, 06:29AM

This is the New Animal Collective

An overdue reassessment of Centipede Hz and the work of the band that followed.

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The original cover of Centipede Hz.

Animal Collective came and went with my teen years, almost down to the month: a burned CD-R of Feels two months before it came out, two months before I turned 13—it changed the way I listened to music. Centipede Hz, their ninth album in 12 years, came out a month before I turned 20. They continued on, made more music and toured, but not at nearly the same pace; in late 2012, Animal Collective were as “big” as they were ever going to be, and it felt like following The Beatles in real time as they just kept getting better and better through the 2000s. The crowds got bigger, too, but remember that Merriweather Post Pavilion was their breakthrough, the album that got jocks on board—I burned a lot of CDs in January 2009—but because the band had been touring and recording both together and solo nearly non-stop for a decade, they took a long break at the start of 2010, inhibiting the once in a lifetime excitement and energy of the public falling in love with a brand new band.

Nearly four years between Centipede Hz and Merriweather. By late-2012, there was a whole new crop of kids—those three years make all the difference in music—and most of them went to those Centipede shows expecting something else. For whatever reason, I didn’t see them in 2011 or 2012 when they played at Merriweather Post Pavilion, not only because I didn’t have a car but I didn’t have the will or interest in finding a ride. All of my friends had moved on, or also didn’t have cars. Maybe not moved on, but everyone was disappointed by Centipede Hz. It’s the classic difficult and dark follow-up record to the commercial breakthrough. But Merriweather Post Pavilion was not Rumours, and Animal Collective had a lot farther to fall with their Tusk.

But I don’t doubt that Centipede Hz will be reevaluated, beloved and referenced in 10 or 20 years just as Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 masterpiece has. It’s one of Animal Collective’s best albums: so dense with melodies, rhythms, operations, and radio interference that it makes Feels look like Sung Tongs. And I only bring up all that popularity bullshit because I want to live in a world where a reference to Feels or Sung Tongs is as widely understood as talking about Revolver or The White Album. They were that good—The Beatles of my generation, like I wrote in 2009. I had so much enthusiasm and wasn’t good enough to articulate it then, but more than the sophomoric writing, I wish I hadn’t grown out of a band at the time when they needed me the most.

Did I buy the record? Of course. Did I eventually see them? Yes, at one of the final Centipede shows, December 1, 2013 at the 9:30 Club. It was a great show, and even by then I’d warmed to the sound and style of the record, if not most of its songs. But eventually, some songs did jump out at me: “Moonjock” and “Mercury Man” took six years to get my attention. “Father Time” only struck me at that 2013 show. I immediately liked “Rosie Oh” and “Applesauce,” but that was it. “Crimson,” the best song from those early-2011 shows, was left on the record. I was still in high school when the band debuted much of Centipede Hz during a West Coast tour, and for the first time I found myself disappointed, looking for something to like. It wasn’t the first time—their 2010 film ODDSAC left me cold, and still does—but this was the first album I wasn’t hot on.

This couldn’t be happening. I wouldn’t allow myself to fall out of love with Animal Collective just because the time had come. I’d make it past the seven-year itch.

I tried, but didn’t.

In the 2010s, there were far more solo projects than group works: Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, his solo albums Down There and Cows on Hourglass Pond; Panda Bear’s Tomboy, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, A Day with the Homies, and Buoys; Deakin’s Sleep Cycle; and even Geologist had a tape of his own, released in a very small edition sometime in 2017 or 2018. Maybe 2019. I kept up as much as I could.

When a band keeps surprising you for years, you never expect them to stop—or worse, devolve into self-parody. I haven’t heard either of the recent Animal Collective albums, Time Skiffs and Isn’t it Now?, but my dad likes “Magicians from Baltimore.” He ducked out of the first Animal Collective show I saw back in 2006 when one of the band member’s parents started talking about how we were “going to go on a journey tonight.” Well, we did—it was fucking amazing! Something wild about that Recher Theatre show is how many people I knew there that night that I wouldn’t meet for years, and how many of my friends at the time were there. All of us were there. It was Animal Collective touring Feels, playing only four songs from Feels and giving us mostly new material, the stuff that would make up Strawberry Jam in 18 months.

There’s no going back to that excitement, no matter what new bands there are, because I’m not 13, I’m 31 and know that no band could be my life anymore.

—Follow Nicky Otis Smith on Twitter and Instagram: @nickyotissmith


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