It makes sense to review these two albums together: both prominent experimental, semi-electronic artists from Baltimore releasing new, much-anticipated records on Domino within a week or two of each other.
Animal Collective’s story of success is similar to Radiohead’s – perhaps a slightly less mainstream-accessible version – in that, despite fans’ attitude to past work or expectations of upcoming output, they never stay put, changing aesthetic and number of band members and playing with genre. Fan and critical support alike has been on the up for AnCo throughout their whole career, so it seems only human for them to have a little bit of a slip-up, despite how alien it may sound. Alien is just one word to describe this record; other adjectives would include dense, busy, aquatic, swampy and restless. The most apt however, came to me from Sydney band Milkk’s Cam Whipp, who described the record as "fidgety".
Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist do not sit still; perhaps partially due to the return of multi-instrumentalist Deakin following a four-year hiatus post-Strawberry Jam. Bringing Deakin into the process as heavily as possible results in an at times very cluttered and sudden record. Songs are give little time to breathe and seem to neither build nor fade, maintaining a consistent level of dense synth clashing that can distract from the songwriting prowess that lies within.
That said, it’s is difficult not to compare Centipede Hz to Merriweather Post Pavilion, its phenomenally well-received predecessor, and an average Animal Collective record is a great record for any other band. Deakin’s first ever lead vocal performance on ‘Wide-Eyed’ is a calming, almost relieving centrepiece, while opener ‘Moonjock’ and closer ‘Amanita’ are challenging though enjoyable bookends. Unfortunately, Noah Lennox’s two contributions are lacking, ‘Rosie Oh’ meandering to nowhere and ‘New Town Burnout’ feeling a little like the Tomboy reject he revealed it to be in an interview with Pitchfork.
Animal Collective are never happy to stagnate, but the urban mish-mash of Centipede Hz
is unfortunately a little misguided. Perhaps another temporary shaving back of members a la Sung Tongs
would ground the guys again.
Dan Deacon, America
Dan Deacon’s America on the other hand, is a roaring success. In implementing a significantly larger amount of live instrumentation instead of electronic sounds, Deacon’s latest is less frenetic than its predecessor Bromst, but still maintains his trademark bombast and intensity, resulting in a more focused, unencumbered effort.
America still boasts some of Bromst’s playfulness – third track ‘Lots’ sounds like it was lifted right out of it but still fits into the overall span of America.
Deacon has explained in interviews that this record is an effort to capture to beauty of travelling across America, something that is oft ignored in this current politically charged landscape. It may sound strange to think that electronic music could invoke this feeling but it certainly does. The lyrics however, were inspired by political unrest.
The record’s first half captures this conflict perfectly with strangely beautiful opener ‘Guilford Avenue Bridge’, followed by Deacon’s most comprehensible vocals on a record yet in ‘True Thrush’.
The record’s second half, however – a four-part song suite called ‘USA’ – is a largely instrumental attempt to capture the magnificence and sprawling expanse of travelling across the nation by train. The building, rising euphoria of fourth part ‘Manifest’ results in one of the most uplifting album closers of the year; its horns, strings and choral vocals will certainly leave you with a positive memory of America.
As such, in both artists’ case, unsettled maturation has resulted in a vastly different record to earlier work, perhaps just to opposite effects.