Can Animal Collective's 'Centipede Hz' Make Them Mainstream Stars?
New album follows 2009 breakout 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' -- and is even more accessible.
A decade removed from the looped yelps and muddy chants that composed the brunt of its early work, Animal Collective's latest album, "Centipede Hz," has a whiff of mainstream aspiration.
Chalk it up to the commercial exposure of its previous work: Upon its 2009 release, "Merriweather Post Pavilion" was the apex of a gradual move toward accessibility, harnessing the band's sprawling folk experiments into blissfully melodic singalongs like the six-minute single "My Girls." The album was a critical favorite, and snapped up by more than the face-painted freak-folk fans populating the band's concerts, selling 199,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, easily doubling the group's previous top-seller, 2007's oddball opus "Strawberry Jam" (84,000).
Brian Weitz, better-known as the band's electronics whiz Geologist, says the group got a hint of the reception to "Merriweather Post Pavilion" by road-testing it for 18 months before its release, but notes that no one expected that much of a groundswell. "To be playing a venue like the actual Merriweather Post Pavilion [in Columbia, Md.] and the main stage at Coachella ... that's definitely a shocker, from a band that used to play to 100 people."
"Centipede Hz," due Sept. 4 on Domino, is a decisive step away from its predecessor's viscous dreaminess, but Weitz says a straight progression was never the goal. "I don't like to think of our records as too linear," says Weitz, who makes up the band with Dave Portner (aka Avey Tare), Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) and Josh Dibb (Deakin). "If this one had come after 'Strawberry Jam,' it probably would feel like more of a linear progression."
"Centipede Hz" arrives nearly four years after "Merriweather Post Pavilion," the longest gap the band has spent between albums -- but it didn't rest on its laurels. After spending most of 2009 on tour, the group screened a "visual album" directed by Danny Perez at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010. Two months later, the band reteamed with Perez on an Atari installation at New York's Guggenheim Museum. As Panda Bear released another critically acclaimed solo set, "Tomboy," in April 2011, the group continued sporadically touring and writing songs for "Centipede Hz" outside its native Baltimore, before heading to Sonic Ranch Studio in El Paso, Texas, to record in early 2012.
Domino director of marketing Peter Berard recalls that when the label first met to discuss the new album last fall, the group talked about being inspired by "alien-sounding" radio signals. Drawing upon the experience of Domino Radio, an online broadcast from June 2011 that showcased the label's roster, the band based the album's promotion around a weekly radio show that would allow each member to curate material across four episodes. On the July 29 debut broadcast of "Animal Collective Radio," the group premiered "Today's Supernatural," the rollicking first single. On the final broadcast (Aug. 19), "Centipede Hz" was played in its entirety.
Following the last broadcast, "Centipede Hz" became available as a free stream, with each song accompanied by visuals. A fall tour of North America and Europe begins Sept. 18 in Seattle, and Weitz says the band will visit Australia, among other places, in 2013.
Along with a properly trippy video for "Today's Supernatural" that premiered Aug. 15, the group will release a bonus DVD with the album's deluxe edition. According to Berard, it's hoped that the DVD and radio broadcasts (now archived online) will bring casual fans deeper into the band's world, which now consists of nine albums.
"Merriweather and 'My Girls' were helpful entry points, and this album is too," Berard says. "But there's so much into which you can just dig and dive."