Animal Collective's blissed-out 2009 album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, made them the indie kings of 21st-century psychedelia – but the band wouldn't dream of repeating itself on the follow-up. "For better or for worse, if we feel like we've gotten into a habit of something, we make a 180-degree turn," says guitarist Josh Dibb (a.k.a. Deakin).
So in January 2011, the bandmates – including multi-instrumentalists Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear), Dave Portner (a.k.a. Avey Tare) and Brian Weitz (a.k.a. Geologist) – returned to their hometown of Baltimore and holed up at Dibb's mother's house, jamming together every day for three months like they used to in high school. "It's a pretty aggressive, relentless record," Dibb says of Animal Collective's 10th LP, Centipede Hz, due this fall. "That probably comes from four dudes in a room writing music with really loud amps. It feels like an 18-year-old with a garage band."
Early this year the band took the new tunes to Sonic Ranch studios, hidden deep inside a pecan orchard outside El Paso, Texas. While Merriweather was built mostly around electronic beats, this time Lennox played live drums. The band also cut back on the radiant vocal arrangements that defined the last LP. "There was definitely a group choice to focus a lot more on individual voices rather than layered harmony vocals," Dibb says. "We've done so much of that in the past."
The group has already released two recent outtakes: the bouncy, head-spinning "Honeycomb" and the heart-wrenching, futuristic "Gotham." Dibb's current favorite tracks include "Father Time" and "Monkey Riches," which is full of manic, manipulated vocals. "It's energetic and emotional – there's just something about it that's trance-y."
Centipede Hz is the first Animal Collective LP that Dibb worked on since 2007, following an extended break for personal reasons. "I was just essentially really fragile," says the guitarist. "I could tip over from feeling good to feeling really overwhelmed." Dibb's hiatus – which included a 2010 trip to Mali, and a few gigs in Europe opening for bandmate Lennox – left him feeling recharged. Says Dibb, "I definitely have a renewed sense of appreciation of the work I put into the band."
While the bandmates are now well into their thirties, and two have young kids, they're still hoping to create mind-expanding sonic experiences. "We all talk and think about music in psychedelic terms," Dibb says. "Just in the way edges can blur between sound, or lyrics can indicate multiple ideas."
Animal Collective have announced only a handful of shows for this year, including a night at L.A.'s Hollywood Bowl in September, but more U.S. dates are coming. Says Dibb, "We need to find the balance of being really psyched on the road and not being burnt out or tearing apart your family."
This story is from the June 21st, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.