By Michael Brich – Contributor
Avey Tare’s first solo album isn’t quite what you would expect out from a crucial member of Animal Collective. Then again, you never get what you’d expect from the genre-defying experimental group.
For Tare’s first album from the late 1990’s, he recruited friend Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) to beat the drums. Nine albums later, they are still creating music. Panda has gone on to record three solo albums with a fourth coming soon, including the highly acclaimed (2007’s best) “Person Pitch.” It’s no wonder Tare finally decided to try it himself, and the final product is the challenging “Down There.”
The album is hard to define like any other Animal Collective project, but it most closely resembles almost a dub-step feel. Heavy on the electronic aspect, you can definitely tell “Down There” was composed by one person. It is a deep look into the mind of that person, and one thing this album excels in is digging deep into your mind and pulling out things you thought you would never see again — some good, some bad.
“The flies in the dark with their ways / Of shedding some light, now I’ve lost all my day / I think they are very lucky / With internal parts like illumined sun rays,” are the first lines on the opening track “Laughing Hieroglyphic,” and the way it’s sung almost depresses the listener. It’s like a haunting lullaby, with deep sounds surrounded by accordions and a man singing of his past woes. At first listen, nothing seems to fit and everything seems separated and to be going in different directions. As Tare’s voice settles into a rhythm, everything else seems to start to settle with it. Nothing ever fully sinks though; it just treads water.
The deep dub-step-house beats on “Oliver Twist” will leave you wondering if you are supposed to dance or not as you listen to Tare’s voice tread that very water, sometimes submerging, leaving you wondering if he is going “Down There.” After the next track, “Glass Bottom Boat,” you almost wonder if he did just go under. The depression in the singing and the piano adds to the whole ambience.
Why so sad? After Animal Collective’s hugely successful Merriweather Post Pavillion last year, everyone assumed Tare would stay on the happy-pop track and deliver a happy album, but that is not the case. Tare sings of his sister in the hospital, cemeteries and even ghosts. A lot of the album has references to his split with ex-wife Kria Brekkan, with whom Tare made album Pullhair Rubeye with in 2007.
“Someone’s in the room, listening to me / No one’s in the room, it must just be me / Thinking to myself, hearing myself breathe” is a line that reference to this, from the song “Heather in the Hospital.”
However, the album isn’t all sad. Tare has confirmed that the song “3 Umbrellas” is about his three bandmates being the three umbrellas around him.
Overall, though, throughout the whole album, you sit and tread water, and that is nearly all you do. The album just seems to never go anywhere. Tare put together some amazing beats on all of these songs, but it doesn’t have the change, shift or energy that many Animal Collective songs possess, and for this reason it is not one of the top albums of the year. The beats alone are a reason to give “Down There” a chance. With the amazing vocal melodies ,Avey Tare seems to make a sure winner, but the lack of energy leaves you hanging there in that water, never giving you enough energy to pull you up out, just enough to leave you treading, treading and treading. It’s strange, but maybe it was intentional.