Animal Collective's last studio album, 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion,was a hard act to follow, with its daisy chains of loops and harmonies. It was track upon track of sunshine and rainbows, of carefree, skippy beats. You could have drowned in its perfectly engineered sound, like a wasp in a pitcher of Pimm's.
Their new album, Centipede Hz, is also a listener's dream - but this time they sound awkward, stompier. Imagine the complex glam jangle of early '70s Todd Rundgren, or the highly-strung sensibility that producer Steve Lillywhite added to XTC's early '80s records. Centipede Hz is not as pretty as MPP.Think earthy rather than ethereal.
"I think it's more visceral and definitely more live in feel. Some of the textures are more aggressive," says the band's electronics and sample wizard Brian Weitz, also known as Geologist. "We wanted a bit more of that feeling after a few years of playing samplers. That got very easy and we wanted a bit more danger in the performance."
Nods to technology are overt throughout. There are samples of radio interference, references to outer space in songs such as "Moonjock" and "Mercury Man", and, of course, the title's reference to hertz frequency units. Analogue concepts of space travel and radio signals beam in their static chaos from light years away; ideas to contemplate while stoned. But why now when everyone's glued to digital screens?
"We like old, analogue tape music and old, analogue, electronic records," says Geologist, "None of us are big computer music programmer people. It's only in the last few years we've really even tried our hand at MIDI stuff. The radio stuff just came out of a CD Dave [vocalist David Portner, also known as Avey Tare] had from his brother's old air checks when he was a mainstream radio jock. We also wanted to play around with making music that felt rocking, but wasn't really pure rock, if you know what I mean. The idea came up of an alien band hearing some kind of transmission from earth but it being all jumbled with rock and Latin music and what they might make if they covered it."
That kind of otherworldly effect is part of the aesthetic of the album's artwork and videos. The group often think in reverse, coming up with images first or while writing songs, then producing music to fit. In the case of ODDSAC, their 2010 "visual album" collaboration with film-maker Danny Perez, the group members appear as psychedelic characters in a flickering Day-Glo landscape. What sort of visual ideas inspired Centipede Hz?
"The image of a centipede was a big one for us," says Geologist. "Dave mentioned it in some discussion before we started writing as a reference for how the next batch of songs should be like. As opposed to the standard "verse - chorus - verse" structure, they would be more sectional with forward movement. That could be applied to the sequence of the album as well. The arms would be all the little details of sound.
The centipede is also a reminder that freakiness, in all its myriad forms, can be found close to home. Centipedes seem very alien in their appearance, but also spend their lives close to the earth. Not earth as in the planet, but the dirt. We wanted the album to be a good combination of alien and earth."
Centipede Hz is out now through Domino Records.