What can be said about Animal Collective that hasn’t already been said? They have gone from being Brooklyn’s underground freak-out favourites to world media darlings and every hipster’s favourite band. They are undeniably odd and equally brilliant; one of the only bands who have developed a unique sound to call their own over the past decade, whilst still managing to sound years ahead of everybody else. They are also no strangers to indulging in artistic and creative projects other than the band. Visual-audio experiments, guest curators at the Guggenheim Museum and constant side projects all feature in their portfolio.
Drummer Noah Lennox’s solo project Panda Bear has proved particularly fruitful, earning admiration equal to Animal Collective’s highest praise. His 2007 album Person Pitch was ranked as the best album of the year in some quarters. Now, the Collective’s de facto front man Avey Tare has his own pop at going solo.
Down There is Avey Tare’s (real name David Portner) debut album, released on his own label Paw Tracks. Already a seasoned pro in creative construction, this is one of the most inventive, original and mesmerising debut albums of the year. In fact, calling it a debut seems somewhat misleading on first listen. It would be easy to see Down There as a continuation 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 of strange electronics, samples, soggy bass and tribal, otherworldly vocals. Except, where Person Pitch was focussed on the uplifting experience of parenthood, Down There drops another tab and sails down the midnight river surrounded by thick forest. The bass bubbles and ripples against the bow, the noise of nocturnal creatures becomes distorted, the howling winds sound like demons coming to the surface and the sound of civilisation is but a whisper in the distance.
The depth of each song is astonishing, as a sonic experience it’s up there with the best and despite being less focussed than his recent work with Animal Collective, Down There is all the better for the meanders it takes. Laughing Hieroglyphic chimes like a fairground at Christmas time and, as Avey Tare witters his inaudible ramble, the bass line bobs up and down and Panda Bear-esque vocal yelps echo in the background.
Many of the songs, and this is a key theme in his previous work too, use everyday samples in an otherworldly context. The revving of a car, the running of water, everyday dialogue all suddenly become the most unsettling aspect of this eerie psychedelia.
Leaving the best for last, and the album’s first single, Lucky 1 is the light 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 fat synths inject the album with rare jollity, very much as Brother Sport did at the 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 what to expect can take great delight from this dark offering, whilst whetting the appetite for more in the future.