Avey Tare – Down There

As the first solo album by Avey Tare, Down There has a lot to live up to. Not only does he have his work with Animal Collective to live up to, he also has his partner-in-crime Panda Bear’s outstanding solo outings to be juxtaposed against. Often seen as the negative harmony to Noah Lennox’s more pop-oriented fever dreams, most people are expecting Down There to sound, for all intents and purposes, like Animal Collective circa 2003. After a few listens of Down There, it’s apparent that Avey Tare has some issues with this kind of simplicity.

The problem with Tare releasing a solo effort this “late” into his career trajectory is that most people are expecting his own take on Person Pitch or a more harrowing turn on Merriweather Post Pavilion. Perhaps “expecting” is the wrong word. It’s more like “hoping”. Unfortunately for them, Down There is a singular release, one which can’t really be compared to anything in the AnCo catalog. Unironically enough, it sounds like Avey Tare in album form; a schizoid circus of moist electronic pop tunes that are reminiscent of the swamp aesthetic that he has been espousing in interviews and on the cover of the album.

Opener “Laughing Hieroglyphic” is based on a repeating, drowned-out accordion sample, but with the desperate delivery of some rather harrowing lyrics from Portner, it turns what could have been a 6-minute slump through familiar Feels territory into an urgent exploration of the stress Portner has been under for the past couple years. The trend set by the song is followed for the majority of the album which is full of off-kilter hooks and dilapidated imagery; “Heather in the Hospital” eschews the sentimental route of an Antlers-esque cancer ward narrative for a bizarre collage of stressing hospital imagery.

The lyrics of Down There don’t take center-stage but play a much more important role than on most AnCo releases. It’s a personal album full of doubt and pejorative jabs, but it’s all against Portner himself. Instead of hating himself or the world that gave his sister her bout with cancer, he questions himself as if he’s psycho-analyzing his soul. Even the samples tell an odd tale; “Oliver Twist” has the most disturbing one as a warped voice recounts a child seeing a skeleton, remarking it must be one of his “bad days”.

Stylistically, Down There is an odd beast of many different influences and genres. Songs like “3 Umbrellas” and “Lucky 1” are familiar-sounding freak folk, but like every song on the album, it sounds absolutely soaked; not so much in reefer residue as is the usual, but rather in a thick, swampy mirth. “Heads Hammock” is reminiscent of Autechre IDM, a sparse arrangement of bass and samples. Everything else however is tough to pin down: “Oliver Twist” is a beat-centric electro-amalgamation, “Cemeteries” sounds like what you’d think it would if Avey Tare wrote a song about, well, a cemetery, and “Ghost of Books” is somewhere in-between the previous two.

Down There is only a disappointment if you want it to be. Most will ignore the lyrical melancholy about ghost worlds and the river Styx, skip what they see as the “interlude” tracks like “3 Umbrellas”, and only revisit it more repeating of “Oliver Twist” and “Lucky 1” since they have the best hooks on the album (they’re also the best songs, but I digress). But to do all of these is to ignore what Down There is; it is an album, from the cover art, to the lyrics, to the muddy aesthetic, it is a singular piece of music that should be enjoyed as such. Sure, it’s got hooks and it is a catchy album, but it’s not as poppy as you’d think just as it’s not as difficult as you’d think given the subject matter. Overall, despite reservations by fans hoping for the next Person Pitch, Down There is a reserved, personal album and a great one at that.

By Trevor “Swamp Life stickers are fucking stupid” Johnson

1 Comment

  1. 10/28/10: New Review…Finally… « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Avey Tare – Down There review by Trevor Johnson […]

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