Animal Collective vocalist’s solo debut leads listeners into darker territory.
Chris Lo 2010
Baltimore, though probably only known to most Brits as the drug-addled wasteland presented in classic HBO drama The Wire, is a veritable Eden for modern experimental music in the US, with Dan Deacon's Wham City art collective sitting at its epicentre. Off-the-wall creativity seems to seep from the city's streets, with acts like Deacon, Beach House and Ponytail giving Baltimore an independent credibility beyond its size or mainstream cultural heft.
Avey Tare (Dave Portner to his mother) is a central figure in Animal Collective, Baltimore's most successful experimental export to date. Portner's group trades in rhythmic, danceable psychedelia with beats that splosh like fat raindrops. The band's experimental but welcoming sound has seen them unexpectedly stumble upon an enthusiastic international audience, particularly after the breakout success of 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion. Following in bandmate Panda Bear's illustrious footsteps, Avey Tare has finally struck out for his debut solo adventure with Down There.
On the surface, many of Animal Collective’s musical hallmarks are in evidence on Down There. There's a bouncy elasticity to the beats on hypnotic droner Oliver Twist and lead single Lucky 1 that recalls some of the Collective’s slower tracks. But while Animal Collective's psychedelia tends towards a deliriously expansive energy, Avey Tare's trip leads the listener down an altogether spookier rabbit hole.
Rather than opening like a flower, Down There radiates a humid, confined atmosphere. The beautiful Cemeteries is tied together by gloopy down-tuned chords that make it seem as if the song is being played from the bottom of a murky Louisiana bayou. Far from the electric togetherness exuded by Portner's band, Down There seems shadowy and isolated. The introspection continues on Ghost of Books, which opens with loping synths over the repeated refrain "keeping myself in my mind". Penultimate track Heather in the Hospital, purportedly inspired by Porter's sister's battle with cancer, bristles with discomfort and trippy medical imagery. Almost every one of Down There’s nine songs feels like an intimate glimpse into Portner’s mind. It doesn’t seem an altogether happy place, all in all.
With little pop appeal, Avey Tare's swampy debut is unlikely to grace top 40 radio playlists. But given time, Down There is a rewarding and fascinating listen, its allure in the seductive atmosphere it exudes with every glistening note and slimy drum fill.