is a noir record. Dave Portner (Avey Tare) has publically expressed that his solo record is an expunging of demons, and he does not wish to perform it, two red flags if you're looking for Miley Cyrus worthy pop tunes or even the sprightly abstractions of his day job in Animal Collective. Add the fact that Portner is obsessed with crocodiles and you've got Down There
, a record that wouldn't be any murkier if it was played underwater in a black hole. The obvious conclusions, that "Down There" refers to Portner's subconscious, or more literally the underwater dwelling of his animal of choice, are just liner notes for a deeper experience. This is not a one spin wonder.
As an exercise in empathy, Down There
is a resounding success. Whatever Portner was feeling when he was melting these sounds together certainly translates, and each track magnifies your desire for a glass of whiskey and/or a person to violently shake you. But the songs themselves are murky and bob up and down, and all seem to lack a top half of the EQ spectrum, so it's tough to just dive right in. The closest thing to a song we might dare to put on in a social setting is "Oliver Twist", an almost pornographic use of vocal effects and percussive elements, all smashed together into four minutes of swamp pop. "Ghost of Books" has an awesome hook but like most of the record, a lot of the song sits below a thick layer of smoke and reverb. Most of this record is as confusing as it is intriguing.
An album of sonic babble always begs the question "why bother" before "how do I feel"? The synthesis of 20th century abstractions and hipster culture is no longer progressive, there is nothing new here. And sometimes it seems the most notable application for extended listening of Animal Collective music is a few tabs of acid and two days' worth of free time. But what I find redemptive about Down There
is that Portner isn't trying to impress us. It's honest in the way that only a record of self-medicating can be, filled with songs as thoughts as thoughts as sounds. Like a splatter paint picture crafted in the heat of an emotional meltdown, you need to move past the "huh?" to get to the "wow". And it's there.
But that's just the experience, I'm not saying Down There
was made in one take. Quite the opposite. It's easy to forget that there is a difference between recordings and performances, but that difference is so important to what all the guys in Animal Collective do. Recorded music can be a burden and a gift; some might argue much less in the moment, but labor intensive, full of scrutiny and rewrites and disappointments. Details matter. Here, Portner is weaving an incredibly fine cloth, filled with little delicious nooks of sound to discover and rediscover. Avey Tare is an aquired taste, sure, but it's one worth having.
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MP3: "Lucky 1"
Avey Tare on Myspace