What can be said about Animal Collective that hasn’t already beensaid? They have gone from being Brooklyn’s underground freak-out favouritesto world media darlings and every hipster’s favourite band. They areundeniably odd and equally brilliant; one of the only bands who havedeveloped a unique sound to call their own over the past decade, whilststill managing to sound years ahead of everybody else. They are also nostrangers to indulging in artistic and creative projects other than theband. Visual-audio experiments, guest curators at the Guggenheim Museum andconstant side projects all feature in their portfolio.
Drummer Noah Lennox’s solo project Panda Bear has provedparticularly fruitful, earning admiration equal to Animal Collective’shighest praise. His 2007 album Person Pitch was ranked as the best album ofthe year in some quarters. Now, the Collective’s de facto front man Avey Tare has his ownpop at going solo.
Down There is Avey Tare’s (real name David Portner) debut album, releasedon his own label Paw Tracks. Already a seasoned pro in creativeconstruction, this is one of the most inventive, original and mesmerisingdebut albums of the year. In fact, calling it a debut seems somewhatmisleading on first listen. It would be easy to see Down There as acontinuation of Animal Collective’s musical Venn diagram or even an attempt to recreate what Panda Bear has already achieved.
It certainly follows a similar path to Panda Bear’s work, being mainly comprised ofstrange electronics, samples, soggy bass and tribal, otherworldly vocals.Except, where Person Pitch was focussed on the uplifting experience ofparenthood, Down There drops another tab and sails down the midnight riversurrounded by thick forest. The bass bubbles and ripples against the bow,the noise of nocturnal creatures becomes distorted, the howling winds soundlike demons coming to the surface and the sound of civilisation is but awhisper in the distance.
The depth of each song is astonishing, as a sonic experience it’s upthere with the best and despite being less focussed than his recent workwith Animal Collective, Down There is all the better for the meanders ittakes. Laughing Hieroglyphic chimes like a fairground at Christmas time and,as Avey Tare witters his inaudible ramble, the bass line bobs up and downand Panda Bear-esque vocal yelps echo in the background.
Many of the songs, and this is a key theme in his previous work too, useeveryday samples in an otherworldly context. The revving of a car, therunning of water, everyday dialogue all suddenly become the most unsettlingaspect of this eerie psychedelia.
Leaving the best for last, and the album’s first single, Lucky 1 is thelight at the end of what was, by and large, a dark and perturbing journey.Uplifting vocals which soar upwards and bend with unrestrained joy as fatsynths inject the album with rare jollity, very much as Brother Sport did atthe end of Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Fans of Animal Collective and Panda Bear will obviously love this album;another creative triumph for the boys from Baltimore. It may be a bit too”out-there” for your casual music listener, but those who already know whatto expect can take great delight from this dark offering, whilst whettingthe appetite for more in the future.