Available on: Paw Tracks LP
An Animal Collective offshoot album inspired by, gasp, dubstep and swamps? Sure, why not.
Avey Tare, or earth name Dave Portner, delivers his first proper solo LP just in time for the fanfare of Halloween. Down There, as the title suggests, conjurs a murky, sluggish nightmare underworld where Portner, with engineering assistance by Josh Dibb, wades and wails, oscillating between haunting and benevolent.
If one wants to compare Animal Collective with the Beatles, then Portner’s last effort, collaboration with ex-mum Kristin Anna Valtysdottir, Pullhair Rubeye, is his Unfinished Music records , and Down There is his John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Wait, scratch that entirely. This has more in common with the new Darkstar and Sufjan Stevens albums than anything on those old plates.
Avey’s music is veering much more in the electronic direction than from his more acoustic, live instrumentation beginnings. Down There beeps and squelches with programmed synth beats and weird, noodly effects, although they feel quite organic. Pitched-down vocals melt into mud on ‘Heather in the Hospital,’ and dirge-like vocals bounce around a wet echo chamber on ‘Cemeteries,’ which wouldn’t be out of place on a Salem record. There are wet, slippery atmospherics all over the album: flowing, trickling, raining, splashing. Listen to the water flowing behind the merry go round melody in ‘3 Umbrellas,’ and tell me it isn’t off-putting. As with most Animal Collective-related releases, this one successfully production designs a whole world for us.
The album is most successful when properly fractured grooves finally kick in on tracks like bookenders ‘Lucky 1’ and ‘Laughing Hieroglyphic.’ I secretly hoped to hear more of what Merriweather Post Pavilion got at: proper electronic music, some you might even be able to dance to. ‘Oliver Twist’ is broken beat filtered through a Richard James hope crystal, promising alien proto-house. However, most of the percussion feels like a series of teases, as its melancholy, dark overtones dominate the whole album.
Lyrically, Avey goes for some complex cadences, some interesting layering and vocal rounds, and I understand more than I have on most AC albums. But I’m still not exactly sure what I’m doing in this hellswamp. I know it’s an opaque piece; I’m not supposed to understand anything right away. It’s certainly re-listanable in that respect. Running around 35:00, Down There creates a dense Dagobah, but I’m not sure if the planet is entirely explored, if I’m reading a novella instead of a novel. At least it doesn’t overstay its welcome.