The theatrical psychedelic folk group Animal Collective is one of the weirdest groups to achieve wide acclaim in many years, says Seattle Times music freelancer Charlie Zaillian in this preview. The group plays Seattle's Paramount Theatre Tuesday.
“We’re like the Terrell Owens of music,” says Animal Collective’s Brian “Geologist” Weitz. “An athlete that plays for so many teams, you don’t really know what jersey to think of him in.”
As often as the volatile wide receiver (recently cut by the Seahawks) has switched uniforms, Animal Collective — which plays Seattle’s Paramount Tuesday — has crossed between genres, since forming in Baltimore in 1999.
The group’s early sound — riff- and chorus-less tribal freakouts, with off-kilter folk overtones — polarized listeners. The band often garnered more attention for high jinks — such as dancing around onstage in creepy masks — than for music.
“For our first two or three years, I don’t think we ever played for more than a few dozen people,” Weitz says. “It’s sort of helpful to go through a period of time where nobody cares.”
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“Sung Tongs” (2004) saw the quartet adding pop and electronic elements to its more primitive tools, but obfuscation remained a big part of its game; getting through a whole album was still challenging for many.
In 2009, though, Animal Collective scored with “Merriweather Post Pavilion, ” a psychedelic tour-de-force that elevated the group from noisy curiosity to experimental vanguard, selling 200,000 copies and collecting numerous awards, such as album of the year from independent music authority Pitchfork. Animal Collective is by far the weirdest band in years to achieve that kind of success.
After a three-year break, Animal Collective is back, with “Centipede hZ.” But this is no carbon copy of its celebrated predecessor.
The hourlong double LP is a heady, dense explosion of continuous sound, with songs book-ended by celestial-radio transmissions. With vocal caterwauling and too many instruments to identify, the album’s first single, “Today’s Supernatural,” might send some fans to the exits, but mid-album gems such as the tropical lullaby “Father Time” and the freaky electro-funk rave-up “Monkey Riches” reveal a fierce melodicism below the chaotic surface.
“We’re not trying for any one thing,” says Weitz. “We have different sides of our personalities and don’t think we have to feel limited to express only one.”
They never have. Alternatively categorized throughout its career as psych-folk, noise-rock and electro-pop, Animal Collective’s whole is greater than those parts, making truly transcendental music, mixing the abstract and personal to become a sort of genre unto themselves.