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First Listen: Animal Collective, 'Centipede Hz'

NPR icon by Stephen Thompson

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It says a lot for Animal Collective's eclectic career that the new Centipede Hz could have headed in virtually any direction imaginable. After 2009's smash Merriwether Post Pavilion — a frequently beautiful exercise in hypnotic, psychedelic rock bliss — Avey Tare and Panda Bear might have explored ever-denser harmonies, or washed-out 21st-century beach-pop, or any flight of fancy they've yet devised or thought of devising. What they chose may be the least expected option of all: They decide to remind listeners that they still lead a rock band.

Sure, Animal Collective muddies the waters with electronics, samples, and blips and burps of varied and indeterminate origin. But Centipede Hz, out Sept. 4, is jagged and assertive; it snarls and heaves, supported by electric musculature. The first single, "Today's Supernatural," makes that mission clear, as Avey Tare hollers "Let let let let let let let go!" over what sounds like a sonic car crash.

At times, Centipede Hz seems almost deliberately alienating, as if Avey Tare, Panda Bear and their collaborators felt the need to tone down commercial and artistic expectations — say, back to a level someplace beneath "reinventing music as we know it." But, more to the point, the album captures the sound of studio wizards who are once again ready to unleash some sweaty savagery on the live stage.

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