It used to be that when a new record by a major band was approaching its release date, a few first-glimpse reviews would begin to appear in major publications thanks to the preferential advance copies mailed out by label PR departments. It’s old news that the music industry has undergone massive change in the past decade, but the way a new record is debuted and ultimately released is still a fairly fresh creative outlet for those who have already established a precedent for experimentalism in their songcraft.
Once regarded as noisy vanguards, Animal Collective turned the corner from niche weirdos to the zeitgesit-defining band of this indie-cultural era with 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, making their follow-up record a perfect candidate for such treatment. Having debuted most of the material from Centipede Hz on the road last year, the band’s shift from samplers to rock instrumentation (with erstwhile member Deakin rejoining the group on baritone guitar) was sufficiently foreshadowed that when “Today’s Supernatural,” the album’s first single, debuted on the band’s weekly online Animal Collective Radio show this summer, no one much expected the new record to display an earth-shattering turn in style. This was confirmed on Sunday when the band posted the full album (as Abby Portner-directed music videos) for free in advance of the record’s Sept. 3 release date.
This distribution strategy may be the most “experimental” aspect of the band’s new record. While Merriwether was built on Panda Bear’s cyclical electronic incantations, Centipede Hz is largely a vehicle for Avey Tare, singing lyrics that draw on domestic rather than psychedelic influences (“Father Time” being a theme for most of the band members at this point) in front a group that sounds more rock band than tribal collective. Panda Bear spends most of the record at a proper drum kit, contributing only “Rosie Oh” and “New Town Burnout,” the latter of which might as well have been included on his solo record Tomboy last year. Deakin provides the other curveball with his excellent “Wide-Eyed.” Meanwhile, Tare, who plays a proper keyboard for most of the record, has eliminated most of the Feels-era screaming from his vocal delivery, relying on the sample-savvy Geologist to inject the tracks with their quota of weird.
“Weird” isn’t an adjective that readily comes to mind anymore while listening to Animal Collective—and this is a positive development for two reasons. Over the course of nine records, the band have so thoroughly baptized contemporary pop audiences with experimental strategies that more of the sonic spectrum has become in-bounds than ever, and appetites for adventurous sounds now transcend genre barriers. As a result, the textural flourishes that might have once been shocking or distracting are now transparent enough to earn the band (in this case, Tare) credit for classically accomplished songcraft. In this way, Centipede Hz won’t be remembered as an aesthetic milestone so much as simply an outstanding record.