Midway through the 10th Animal Collective album, Josh “Deakin” Dibb shouts, “I get wide-eyed! Wide-eyed!” into infinity – like some kind of psychedelic drill sergeant leading a battalion of dream warriors into battle against the forces of droopylidded normalcy. It’s a fitting salvo: AC are the pre-eminent mystic seekers of the Brooklyn indie-rock demimonde – what the Grateful Dead were to the San Francisco ballroom scene or what Television were to CBGB punk. Though they started off in the early ’00s crafting artisanal noise jams, they came into their own pursuing sweeping beauty for its own dilated sake, mixing fractured Beach Boys vocals, gyric dance beats and geeked-out melodic grandeur into highpower serotonin slushies like 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. If you buy their naive magic, they can convince you they’re the last truly unselfconscious flower puppies left in a snark-laden age.
By now, though, Animal Collective have been tripping their teats off for more than a decade, and everyone’s gotta come down a little sometime. So, Centipede Hz is a touch more earthbound than we’ve come to expect from them – a return to what the band calls its garage-rock “roots” (recorded, fittingly, on a ranch). “Moonjock” opens with cartoonishly wicked onenote noise blasts and evolves into something akin to Sleigh Bells, by way of the Dead’s “The Eleven.” On the next song, “Today’s Supernatural,” over similarly bracing guitar smacks and a groove that suggests Jane’s Addiction reborn as the hottest polka band on Planet Zorp, main vocalist Avey Tare sings, “Sometimes you gotta go get. . . mad!”
One wonders what makes Animal Collective mad (unicorn poachers?). But the results often sound like a band knocking around in a room and not just using the studio as escape pod, from the screamadelic two-step “Applesauce” to the fluorescent folk rock of “Rosie Oh,” which ends with a robot voice big-upping “Johnnie Walker!” – perhaps a nod to AC’s new taste for harder stuff.
The linear pulse, and a paring back of their signature kaleidoscopic Pet Sounds harmonies, might bum out the band’s cult – people who took Merriweather as cause to go off their antidepressants. But fear not, hipster Hobbits, even when Animal Collective go “garage rock,” it’s still pure psych-rock Romper Room. This is a band that takes deep vocal influence from Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” which ping-pongs from East Asian classical music to post-punk drum circles to gooey doinktronica, whose tripnotic circular rhythms (via Stewart Copeland fan Panda Bear) are often more like GIFs than grooves, which drops a jam called “Father Time” that sounds like Xavier Cugat playing an ashram.
What gives Centipede Hz its relatable gravity is that, this time out, Animal Collective sound more like creatures who put their skinny jeans on one hoof at a time. “Wonder how I even wrote this song/Does this not occur to almost everyone?” Tare sings on “Monkey Riches.” For a band that usually seems to be eternally shambling toward transcendence, a shot of ambivalence is a brave new kind of pick-me-up.