Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Animal Collective - Centipede Hz

The last time I wrote about music on Flying Houses was on July 20, 2010.  It was a review of the Pitchfork Festival and it is strangely enough one of the most popular posts on Flying Houses.  I felt it was a missed opportunity when I did not review this year's festival--but I only went to Saturday's shows, and felt that something so incomplete should not be included (but to summarize: Cloud Nothings in the driving rain playing 10 minute version of "Wasted Days" = euphoria/horror, 9.3/10; Atlas Sound playing slower songs in heavy torrential rain, Bradford Cox wearing suntan lotion he forgot to rub in, seemingly auditioning for a second career in stand-up comedy = hilarity/boredom and discomfort, 6.7/10; Lotus Plaza in between those two sets, Lockett's dreamy voice floating across the atmosphere through the trees, about two or three songs performed as they should be live = pure abbreviated satisfaction; 8.0/10; Wild Flag opening up with "See No Evil," closing with "Romance," and tearing s*** apart in between = ecstasy, 9.6/10; Sleigh Bells sounding way too eager to please, shouting "F***!" and "S***!" a lot as if exhausted/exhilarated, being way back in the crowd due to later set time and burgeoning popularity of that band = i'd rather be listening at home alone, 5.3/10; leaving before Godspeed You! Black Emperor because I felt that nothing could top Wild Flag, was bored, was tired, was there alone (horrible way to go).  In some fantasy world I'll get a job in Chicago and be there next year even though the Bar will be like, one week later, and actually have friends who like indie rock and will enjoy myself more--but in reality, the festival will probably continue to be populated by increasingly obscure bands, with the best moments saved for the rare new acts that happen to be magnificent, like Cloud Nothings.


Animal Collective played Pitchfork in Summer 2011--the only other year I missed besides 2008, which appeared to be the best line-up of any year, but I digress....I did sort of see Panda Pear at the 2010 Festival while waiting for LCD Soundsystem, but as has been the rumor, live, their band(s) does not seem to inspire excitement, but confusion, delirium, boredom, and incredulity.

It's all hearsay I guess, since I've never made an effort to see them live because of such fears, and because I like listening to their albums over and over just fine.  That said, I believe I stated that Merriweather Post Pavilion was the best album of the 2000s (better than Kid A), and that LCD's This is Happening would be remembered as one of the best of the 2010's (even though we are still in the early stages of the decade).  Where then, does Centipede Hz. fit in?

I am not going to open myself up to ridicule and claim that this album is better than Merriweather.  But I will say that the visual component of this album gives it another dimension that should be taken into account in any review.  Now true, most people do not want to put on a 53 minute collection of psychedelic visuals to complement the same 53 minutes of music.  You simply have to be on drugs in order to give yourself away to such a meditative exercise.  However, it is worth doing at least once.  I have done it at least five times, I think.

On the basis of the music alone, I might be inclined to agree with Pitchfork's 7.4/10 assessment of the album, but taking the visuals into account, this album deserves a score in the early 9's.  While the visual accompaniment is nothing new, it is a throwback to more innocent times for me.  It reminds me of going to see concerts at Irving Plaza ten years ago where, in between sets, the big projector screen would descend, and DJs would play either music videos or random songs with crazy visuals that only made sense on the most  esoteric level.  This was way better than standing awkwardly for thirty minutes, trying to think of something to say to your friend when you are amidst a spectacle and are curiously bereft of other interesting topics of conversation.

Centipede Hz. is basically made for this--but I have to be honest and admit my suspicion that it is also made especially for stoners.  Animal Collective albums have always been "druggy," but this album goes further than any of those and into all-out psychedelia in its visuals.  Sometimes they are exhilarating, hilarious, profound, spine-tingling, beautiful, or just awe-inspiring.  None of the videos seem professionally shot by the Collective's contemporaries, but rather appear to be pieces of "found footage" with a few self-made lo-fi shots thrown into the mix.  There is lots of repetition and sometimes the lyrics reflect the visuals, which is usually when it is most hilarious.  Like when there is a lyric about a "See-saw" and you see two horses on a see-saw.  Or when darker sounding songs include black-and-white videos that look like they came out of Cold War propaganda, or really sad/scary Disney-type animation.  In particular the openings of "Mercury Man," "New Turn Burnout," and "Amanita" just make me very excited for what is about to come.

But every song is good --there are about three great songs, and about four or five really good songs, and a remaining three or four sounds that are only merely good.

This is not as high a percentage as Merriweather, but these two albums are quite different.  Merriweather is unabashedly mainstream--or least as mainstream as you can get with Animal Collective.  Centipede is the 2nd most mainstream album they have made, and it is the 2nd best album they have made period, in my opinion.

I am sure that other people will claim Feels and Strawberry Jam and even Sung Tongs are better (to say nothing of comparisons to Panda Bear's solo work) but it depends on the kind of person you are, and the kind of mood you are in.  If you like your music fast, loud, weird, and thought-provoking--this is your album.  However if you like it slower, more contemplative, quieter, potentially pleasant-nap-inducing--surely Feels or Sung Tongs is up your alley (or Panda Bear's albums).  If you like an album that's a ridiculous mish-mash from beginning to end but builds to an undeniably mind-blowing mid-album 13 minute two-song suite, then Strawberry Jam is a good option.  And obviously if you like hearing highly-polished Animal Collective at their least weird and most poppy, Merriweather is the place to start (as it should be for anyone new to the band).

This is not a perfect album - I fully admit that a few songs I can look away from the visuals and do some reading or something - but most of the time my attention is too closely drawn, and the songs are just too awesome.  Particularly great is "Amanita" as a closing number, which, along with "Rosie Oh" and a couple other songs, has at least three distinct "parts" which you can't easily define as a verse or chorus, but that add something new each time so the song evolves, while still keeping its basic rhythm.  "Rosie Oh" and "New Town Burnout" are the two Panda Bear songs here, and while I want to say they are the best, I cannot.  While they are certainly among the best, you have to include several Avey Tare songs with them that are on just as high (if not a higher) level.  "Amanita" is the culmination of everything they do on this album, and in a way, their career.
The last album reviewed here was on July 8, 2010.  It was Wolf Parade's Expo '86, which I praised.  That is [probably going to be?] Wolf Parade's last album, as they are now on indefinite hiatus.  I do not mind so much because if Handsome Furs and Sunset Rubdown ever toured together, it would become apparent that Wolf Parade is not greater than the sum of their parts.

Another review right before then was This is Happening which most people believe is the final LCD Soundsystem album.  I'm not trying to jinx Animal Collective by writing this.  I just write reviews of albums when I think they are special, or deserve comment.  The visual aspect of this album is what makes it incredible--and song-wise it's not too bad either.  But I hope that more bands in the future will take a similar approach to joining video and music--not necessarily in the expected music video format, but something like this.  It's true that Sonic Youth did a similar thing with Goo, but those videos are all, distinctly, music videos, usually directed by then-obscure, now-famous directors (Sofia Coppola, Todd Haynes, et. al.) and the album does not hang together as a cohesive whole but just feels like a collection of songs (and even though they're really good songs--the vast majority at least--the effect on the listener-viewer is nothing compared to that of Centipede Hz which is so powerful as to almost totally remove the spectator from reality).

And it is in my humble opinion, that removing the spectator from reality is one of art's highest aims--even if for only an hour, and even if reality must be faced again--these new, dream-like sensations nurture the soul, and may contribute to a person's happiness (if not long term, at least in the short term) and help them find a way to overcome the obstacles that the 2012 daily existence throws in their paths.

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