Laurie Anderson Talks Animal Collective’s Centipede Hz

First of all, I hate to admit it but you might as well know it right off: the more it sounds like "Grass" (my favorite Animal Collective song)...

First of all, I hate to admit it but you might as well know it right off: the more it sounds like “Grass” (my favorite Animal Collective song) the more I like it.

“Grass” is ecstatic. A huge football game that goes haywire. The players suddenly running in circles, insanely chirping cartoon birds, clouds billowing, the marching band spelling out arcane words in quickly shifting formations, the scoreboard in fast forward, the crowd going “Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah!”

As a musician I know that’s not the most generous approach to a new record that has ambitions and lots of great sounds and dangerous harmonies and new constructions. It’s not fair to hope it sounds like something from the past. But I just can’t help it. “Grass” is so full of joy and freedom, all that manic humming and rattling and chirping. Are there more of you out there like that?

That said, I’m not even sure how I feel about Centipede Hz since every time I listen to it I change my mind. I mean really change my mind. Take “Monkey Riches.” It went from unlistenable to one of my current favorites. Dense and flexible, great bunches of sound, emerald isles. Or the transitions. The transitions are beyond lovely. Listen to the way the music slips into “Father Time.”

Other things jump up at me with each listening. “Amanita”’s big chunky moves, its triumphant lyrics. There’s nothing to do! There’s nothing to do! And the way the song marches away double-time at the end, restlessly around and around the field, then just breaks down in a heap. “Grass” redux. Lots of sounds like sputtering and wheels or cards flapping against bicycle wheels. Did they actually attach cards to bike wheels and mike it? I’ve done things like that — tried to record the clicking of false teeth inside the mouth. Why? To put things into sounds. The opposite of putting things into words but still hard to do without sounding like something from your SOUNDFX collection.

Centipede Hz is a record with lots of things in it — motors and propellers, a giant samba band with the massive surdo drum. A record that’s going somewhere, inventing its own form of transportation.

And it’s in the transitions where you can hear the method, the sounds of large structures breaking down into pieces, chunks, the metal springs still trembling, the spent batteries. And it’s from these pieces that are lying around that the next song is swiftly deftly assembled. In “Pulleys” the initial construction is half techno, half organic. Big bundles of hollow rushes through Indonesian filters mix with big, thick chords and a massive, pointy bass line, hooting smoky vocals that curl and twist. Once in a while a vocoder.

“Mercury Man,” restless in the challenging third spot, is the only one that gets a little lost, aimlessly anthemic, until the groove line appears and takes over. “New Town Burnout” starts off differently with an authoritative, compelling beginning, then a cool groove and  spectacular drone. One of the few pieces where I felt the vocals added nothing made up for the large moves of history, the mechanical birds that flap through it. More broken equipment, metal things. Equipment damaged in transit.

But today, “Applesauce” is my favorite. Largely because I can see large manatees driving, twirling, and spinning in the most playful way and I like “Rosie” too, with its sophisticated harmonies and “Today’s Supernatural”’s knocking, stuttering accordion, jittering monkeys, and big, banging punctuation.  I’m in the red zone, wherever that is, a world that’s falling apart in the most delightful way, a place with a mountain view. Fragmentary lyrics.

And there’s “Moonjock” muttering with a great groove, again the great crashes and the tangled masses of notes that roll out in swoops, the song that’s most like the world of “Grass” and then the winding down, the blurry descent into the world of dark chant.

And back to “Grass.” It’s still one of my favorites, but listening to Centipede Hz, like many ambitious, multifaceted new works of art, takes some time and every time I hear it, I hear it more. It’s a work in progress. Dynamic. I wish I could comment on it like it was a thing but it’s too alive for that.

Laurie Anderson is an artist best known for her multimedia presentations and innovative use of technology.  As writer, director, visual artist and vocalist she has created groundbreaking works that span the worlds of art, theater, and experimental music.