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"Down There"

Avey Tare – Down There
05 November 2010, 11:02 Written by Janne Oinonen

At least until the universal acclaim that greeted last year’s superb Merriweather Post Pavillion, Animal Collective were an opinion-splitting proposition.

The biggest barrier to any kind of thumbs up consensus building on the Baltimore-born band would’ve seemed to be Dave Portner, the multi-instrumentalist-singer operating as Avey Tare. We’re basically looking at a John vs Paul Beatle situation here, with Portner considered chiefly responsible for the discordant, abrasive elements of the band’s output, whilst songwriting partner Noah Lennox (AKA Panda Bear) gets lauded for his mastery of Beach Boys-infused harmonising, the reality being, of course, considerably more complicated.

Down There is certainly easier on the ear than Portner’s last project outside the AC banner. That’s not necessarily saying much, though, as ‘Pullhair Rubeye’ (2007) consisted of lullabies played backwards. In the extensive AC catalogue (this is a band that’s long since removed the word ‘holiday’ from their vocabulary), the nearest equivalent to these nine cuts would probably be Panda Bear’s deservedly celebrated 2007 solo ‘Person Pitch’. Not that there’s an ounce of a copycat operation about the production or songwriting; the two albums just happen to share a certain dreamy atmosphere.

Murky, haunted and haunting, ‘Down There’ is a pretty intoxicating slice of otherworldly art-pop; with gently throbbing beats anchoring drowsy grooves dipped deep into hallucinatory swamp waters – or broadcast live from a distant galaxy where everything’s gone hypnotically wonky. Elemental’s the key word here – cuts like ‘3 Umbrellas’ boast a sunkissed melody, but the skeletal arrangement – little more than a bass hum and what sounds like a distorted xylophone parks an enchanting mist over the proceedings. Portner’s often multi-tracked vocals maintain the horizontal late-night vibes, with only the occasional Elvis Costello-esque sneer on excellently disjointed opener ‘Laughing Hieroglyphic’ hinting at the milk-curdling shrieks he’s capable of.

A few tracks rely a bit too heavily on disembodied mutterings and energy-deprived immobility, but the closing double K.O. of ‘Heather in the Hospital’ – a mournful melody gliding ever upwards, lost in a maze of prettily sparkling keyboards – and the anthemic uplift of ‘Lucky 1’ – even if the infectious euphoria’s built on what sounds like an industrial printer in the midst of a violent rebellion – is breathtaking enough to make amends for the odd spot of idling. Slipped out without much fanfare, ‘Down There’ is an absolute must for Animal Collective devotees.

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