Late in the evening three Sundays ago while most of us were winding down our weekends watching the latest Mad Men or catching up on Game of Thrones on our DVR’s, noise-pop pioneers Animal Collective quietly released a new single and b-side on their website. Outside of some tour dates and solo projects like Panda Bear’s 2011 album Tomboy, the AnCo guys have been quiet over the past year, with the exception of the Record Store 2012 release Transverse Temporal Gyrus, a “sound collage” meant to accompany an exhibit at the Guggenheim that I’m not sure even qualifies as music (though some might say that about much of Animal Collective’s discography). So if we’re not counting sound collages, that makes the new single “Honeycomb” and its b-side “Gotham” their first new material since 2009’s EP Fall Be Kind. Unless we’re counting ODDSAC, a visual album they did with Danny Perez in 2010 (it can get complicated with these guys sometimes).
The following Sunday at about the same time Animal Collective decided to throw another wrench into the Sunday night television viewing of their rabid fans when they announced they would be coming out with a new album in September called Centipede Hz (pronounced hertz). This news was accompanied with an appropriately trippy teaser video that featured a set of words/phrases that were eventually revealed to be the album’s tracklist
Animal Collective are known for working through new material while on tour (much to the dismay of those who attend their shows just waiting to hear “My Girls”) so bootlegs of these songs have been floating around the Internet for almost a year now. Still, even with the assistance of a high quality bootleg, it’s hard to tell exactly how an Animal Collective song is going to sound until it’s been fully fleshed out in the studio.
“Honeycomb”, which had previously been labeled by fans as “Frights” opens with something that sounds like the intro to a video game from the 8-bit era or earlier followed by a sample of a guy saying “knows news”(?) and some unsettling beeps. This immediately puts any fears that the layoff may have put their weirdness to rest. From there, a standard bouncy Animal Collective beat wrapped in bleeps and bloops takes centerstage as Avey Tare (who sings lead on both these new tracks) asks “How many times you say I’m through with this and you mull it over?” among other questions. Overall the song has a sound very much in tune with 2007’s Strawberry Jam which I’ve always thought of as “Animal Collective in space album.” Like so much of their other work “Honeycomb” has more than a few catchy elements that reveal themselves after some listening/unpacking and some parts, like Panda Bear’s backup vocals, that endear themselves pretty quickly.
The b-side, “Gotham” (formerly known as “Your Choice”) is much more laid-back and in many ways more immediately satisfying than its a-side. Very similar in pace/vibe to “Street Flash” off the 2008 Water Curses EP, “Gotham” probably could have easily slotted alongside it, even adding a more melancholy and pensive vibe to that EP. The return of Ben Allen as producer for both these songs also results in “Gotham” sounding like it was recorded underwater, which is not a shock since Allen was behind the decks for AC’s 2009 “breakout” Merriweather Post Pavilion, Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest, and the aforementioned Water Curses, three releases that all often sound as if they were pulled up from the ocean floor.
For me, “Gotham” is the more appealing side of this single. Both of these songs are aggressive on the ears in their own ways but the more pensive, laid back pace of “Gotham” is agreeing with me more at the moment. “Honeycomb” is an interesting song, but I get the feeling it has the potential to hold up better on an album as a piece of a bigger puzzle/change of pace. It’s still tough to predict what the next Animal Collective album will bring us from these two songs. There’s certainly a distinct 07/08 Strawberry Jam/Water Curses feel to them and the return of sometimes-member Deakin and his guitar (present on both those releases and these new songs but not MPP) will only encourage that thought process. Avey Tare told Pitchfork that the new album will be “higher energy” and “more excitable” than MPP which agrees with the idea that it will be more along the lines of the Strawberry Jam/Water Curses AnCo sound. That said, when it comes to these guys it’s always best to leave open the possibility that they will do something completely out of left field. Either way we should have our answer come September.
The Honeycomb single is available as a seven-inch vinyl (with immediate free download when you preorder) here or digitally on iTunes here. Centipede Hz comes out on Domino Records in the US on Sept 4 and the UK on Sept 3. The tracklist is as follows:
2. Today’s Supernatural
3. Rosie Oh
5. Wide Eyed
6. Father Time
7. New Turn Burnout
8. Monkey Riches
9. Mercury Man