ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: Centipede Hz
Domino, 54 minutes
Animal Collective make very weird songs about very ordinary things. Their ninth album Centipede Hz covers family road trips (“Moonjock”), paying bills (“Monkey Riches”), and the awesomeness of fruit (“Applesauce”), with tunes as messed up as any in pop music. Though they are worshiped by a segment of overgrown hipster children, frontmen Dave Portner (a.k.a. “Avey Tare”) and Noah Lennox (a.k.a. “Panda Bear”) take real inspiration from the responsibilities and lifestyle of adulthood.
That said, their secret weapon - a stunning lack of self-seriousness - remains armed. Despite warnings to the contrary its weirdness isn't alienating. Anyone who loved the band’s blissful magnum opus Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009) will likely fawn over Centipede Hz, and forgive its slightly odder diversions. The tropical wash of “Pulleys” and “Father Time” aside this is again a largely synthesized and electronic album, not the kind of unplugged snooze-fest musicians sometimes make when they feel the itch of “maturity.”
With that similarity this may be the first Animal Collective album, at least since Sung Tongs (2004), to take direct inspiration from its predecessor. But given the ecstatic reception of Merriweather complaints will be few and far between.
JENS LEKMAN: I Know What Love Isn’t
Secretly Canadian, 38 minutes
Jens Lekman is the kind of guy you want to hate, but can’t. Women love him. He writes songs your parents might enjoy. He takes five years to make a record and gives it the groan-inducing title I Know What Love Isn’t.
There’s something oddly compelling about his music that stifles resentment. I Know What Love Isn’t is good enough to earn passing comparison to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Paul Simon’s Graceland – pinnacles of easy-listening pop. It’s not an instant classic or anything, but what should be cloying sounds positively beautiful.
In the end saxophone solos, Jimmy Buffet rips (“Become Someone Else’s”) and a song about dandruff can’t distract from Lekman’s impeccable songwriting chops. Most tracks here are instantly memorable. Their effortless quality may bring even the most hardened rock fan back for more. I Know What Love Isn’t, and I mean this sincerely, is music you and your girlfriend will completely agree on.
MATCHBOX TWENTY: North
Atlantic, 42 minutes
Remember these guys? It’s worth pointing out, before we get to North, that Matchbox Twenty’s annoying-at-the-time hit singles sound relatively pleasant today. Given the current state of pop radio who wouldn’t want a song as laid-back as “Push” to, um, push Maroon 5 and Owl City off the charts?
And now to the record. While faux-grunge, wuss-rock hits are fine enough to hum along to in single doses, they rarely work together in long form. Like all previous Matchbox records North wears out its welcome pretty quickly, the inoffensive, catchy lead single “She’s So Mean” being a regrettable high-point.
It’s a shame, given their notable number of hits, that Matchbox aren’t savvy enough to update their style for today’s pop market. “Like Sugar” and, tellingly, the rockabilly-tinged “Radio” add a bit of sheen to their sound but won’t be earning them a second wave of success.