It feels wrong to describe anything Animal Collective does as a “left turn”: The band always sounds exactly like its own weird self, even after a decade of veering through a whole menagerie of strange tones. Amorphous noise, chaotic yelps and squiggles, mystic folk songs, gooey electronic pop—it all just sounds like Animal Collective.
Still, given that the band’s last record was a hugely successful dip into liquid synths and starry-eyed melodies, it’s probably safe to call the new Centipede Hz a bit of a swerve. The opening of its lead track, “Moonjock,” clearly wants to surprise fans with its stomping drums and hard-edge shards of noise—but what follows resurrects some of the overstuffed, high-energy sonic scribbling of the band’s early days. “The idea was to really start from zero,” says Noah Lennox, a.k.a. Panda Bear, on the phone from his home in Lisbon. “In a room together for the first time in maybe eight years—none of us had lived in the same city for that long.” All four members met up in Baltimore, where the group got its start, and spent months jamming together to develop songs. The result isn’t exactly a “rock album”; this being Animal Collective, it’s more like a distorted live-audio feed from a rock club a few galaxies over. There are some comfortably watery mid-tempo numbers, too—but when Lennox describes the record as somewhat “in-your-face,” you can hear where he’s coming from.
“The last album we did,” says Lennox, “when we were performing, it was about having long samples or sequences of sounds, where you were just sort of tweaking elements of it. It was really a nonphysical type of music, and I think we were excited to do something more visceral and physically intense.” For Lennox, that meant getting back behind a drum kit—“something I hadn’t done in a long time”—but not before he’d deconstructed the kit itself, swapping snare drums for “woody, clunky” percussion and using contact microphones to process the sound into alien patters and crashes.
One last burning question, though: What does Lennox’s 7-year-old daughter think of Animal Collective’s music? “She thinks it’s boring,” he reports. “She’s not really into it. I haven’t played her the new record, though. She might be into that—she likes really forceful, driving rhythms.”