Avey Tare – Down There
Animal Collective had dabbled in electronics throughout its career, but its music always remained based in organic instrumentation, even if the songs themselves warped these instruments beyond recognition. But after the success of Panda Bear’s sample-heavy solo effort Person Pitch, the group decided to take a different approach. The heavily acclaimed Merriweather Post Pavilion, released in 2009, used electronica as its foundation, creating a colorful, mesmerizing masterpiece that gave the illusion of pop music, tucking its unconventional structures and sound palette beneath the surface. So it does not really come as any surprise that band member Avey Tare’s 2010 solo album, Down There, is a strictly electronic affair. After all, the digital world is one he is fairly new to and has not explored thoroughly on his own.
What is surprising, however, is just how spacious and vast the album sounds. Animal Collective has made a living off of crafting music with dense arrangements and production—even the slower songs were often bursting at the seams in some form or another. Instead, Down There builds off of the murky, underwater motif that accented Merriweather and the Water Curses EP, but it remains atmospheric throughout, veering closer to ambient pop than any of the aforementioned records. Swirling keyboards, unidentifiable sound effects, and muffled backing vocals all dance above and around Avey’s trance-inducing melodies, giving the album a hazy, dream-like flow. Fortunately, the songs have just enough structure to keep the album from turning into a mass of shifting dynamics, but nothing on here resembles a pop song in the traditional sense, even when the four-on-the-floor pulse kicks in on “Oliver Twist” or the electronics squelch on “Lucky 1.” Avey revists some of Merriweather’s hypnotic pop on “Heather In The Hospital” and “3 Umbrellas,” both of which contain some of the most buoyant melodies on the entire album. As with almost any record released in the Animal Collective canon, lyrics here are not emphasized in favor of how the words sound within the context of the music. The lyrics that do surface through the murk, though, often display the themes of alienation and depression—most notably on opener “Laughing Hieroglyph” and “Heather In The Hospital”—the same tactic Avey has used to give weight to his previous work. If the vocals sometimes distract from the aquatic flow of the music, such as on “Ghost Of Books,” these moments are fleeting and never truly detract from the overall atmosphere. And given that this type of music has the tendency to wander, Avey is smart enough to keep everything tight, holding the album to just over a half hour. Straddling the line between the truly experimental and unabashed pop music is something that can easily slip into uninspired pretension, but after a decade working in this field, Avey Tare is without peer, pulling everything together effortlessly. It isn’t as innovative or as beautiful as his band mate’s work on Person Pitch, but Down There is its own small triumph, the moonlight to Panda Bear’s sunshine.