(Paw Tracks; 2010)
By Alan Baban | 23 October 2010
Down There, David Portner aka Tare’s debut solo joint, is a further dot on the still-empty dotted line of Animal Collective’s career, built on a span of eight or so albums through which these guys have willfully, lovingly defied expectations and definitions and even maybe their own individual talents. Hard to imagine even “Brother Sport” without Avey’s yelps—and likewise, “Bluish” without the head-in-the-sky harmonies Panda Bear regularly pulls out of his ass. Down There continues this dotted line because it is at once entirely predictable (electronic sounds, sound effects, sound collage, inertia, inertia, inertia, movement!) and entirely of itself in the AC universe. It does little to pin down its creator and adds very little to what we already know. Its nine tracks add nine new dots to the impression that Avey Tare is the quick-tempered, edgy, uncertain, and prickly alternative to Panda Bear’s rainbow-releasing battleaxe.
So, one would expect Down There to sound claustrophobic and forbidding. But the album isn’t so much forbidding—c’mon, as louring as the sound-palette is, this is still a post-Merriweather Post Pavilion Animal Collective side-project; expect preachy sing-offs, vinegary sing-along weird-anthems produced under the moderating influence of adult experience, and how, like, growing up is pretty kinda shit-nasty, yo?—as it is morose and out of sorts. Like when Panda dropped the long black look of his own Young Prayer in 2004, right after the first of (what would become many of) the Collective’s euphoric cross-winds (Sung Tongs) and capstoning, with its basis on acoustic guitar and long scattered updraughts of melody, one era of the band’s career whilst ushering in a new, commercial scene: direct, unfiltered emoting with, I guess, less belch and more breathing in, or the sound of breathing in as simulated by an overheated air conditioner. Fitting that the Collective’s next album was called Feels and the genre-defining masterstrokes after that found the guys shredding through all sorts of machines. Down There, too, feels like a capstone, in this case a literal sedimentation of what was free and devoid of much storm. Yes, stuff like “Peacebone” (off 07’s phenomenal Strawberry Jam) was noisy and lurching but came off always as a positive expression of life rather than the serious death-rattle of an internal blizzard, where the body’s too tired, and the emotion is just too much: it is released, when it is released, only in micro-bursts and sweatingly-active iotas of pop. I’m not making this album sound that much fun.
Down There isn’t a fun album. But it’s an interesting one in that it pulps the seething mob of the Collective’s ideas into one porridgey-squelch, then lets the squelch cool-off in a deep freeze in a low Antarctic place. In my review of the album’s most radio-friendly track, “Oliver Twist,” I dubbed this the “sound of an Animal Collective banger falling dead on its twisted ear.” Which: yes, the songs that do sound like songs sound like this; but no, the three or so other tracks don’t—they don’t sound like anything; they sound like an amputated ear, an amputated ear submerged in jiggling wax. So, “Cemeteries” is all do-nothingisms, with Lynch-like sound-bites, and “Glass Bottom Boat” is even more do-nothingisms with even more Lynch-sounding sound-bites. They serve as segues between the other tracks, which aren’t meaty by any rubric of the level on anything on the Collective’s record, but like, they’re not meant to be. “Laughing Hieroglyphic” pivots on an inventive drumbeat—Avey sings through a water-effect over accordions about, what, death? Decay? The lumen sunrays? It’s objectively good shit. “Heather in the Hospital” even sorta sounds like Ween after the drugs.
Like Young Prayer before it, Down There exudes the sense of an artist sniffing on his own exhaust—after a life event, a bereavement, and perhaps to a lesser extent the pressure of this most watercoarsed of musical bodies being hooked into new and feeding, fresh arteries of rabid fans. The “but we really like ‘My Girls’” crowd, the peeps who balk at Here Comes the Indian (2003) as if it were culverting faeces, who then righteously stop to ask, and they make the questions sound so kind: “who is this band you made me listen to for four minutes, dick?” and “what is this shit siphoned out of an architecture of large, irritable colons buried in wet sewage, and fed by hosepipes made out of diarrhea? Just what is this objectively shitty-shit?” Down There is going to be that cool, shitty-shit album that’s actually good for the post-MPP generation. Can’t you not wait to not hate it in front of your friends?