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Avey Tare - Down There

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Artist: Avey Tare

Album: Down There

Label: Paw Tracks

Review date: Oct. 18, 2010

Down There is Avey Tare’s first official solo album, but it’s worth mentioning that Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished was originally released as an album by Avey Tare and Panda Bear. Not Animal Collective. Additional personnel aside, those songs very much play like they were conceived by two very different people. Experimental and volatile, control would fluctuate between Avey Tare’s scorched noise tendencies and Panda Bear’s electronic lion-taming act. For me, Tare’s wildness always won.

As the aughts advanced, however, the idea of Animal Collective congealed, and a slow but steady march toward more refined popscapes began. Tare remained at the forefront both live and on record, but he ceded more and more ground to accessibility. This isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing. But it does provide a certain tint and backdrop for the first record in 10 years to bare his name (let’s just forget about Pullhair Rubeye). And within the first two minutes of “Laughing Hieroglyphic,” he sums up the evolutionary process that took him from that first exciting collaborative album to the superlative Merriweather Post Pavilion: “It’s so easy to get lost in the mixture.”

So that’s why he’s doing it, right? Yes, to some degree. Take a look at the McCartney to his Lennon: Panda Bear’s star has risen as Animal Collective’s has, and he’s gone from the loss of Young Prayer to the beach party of Person Pitch. Avey, however, is presenting his personal vision in a new decade where his band has everything to lose. One-time collaborator Kria Brekkan and he are getting divorced. His grandmother has just died, and his sister was diagnosed with cancer. One gets the sense that it’s not exactly the time to be at the top of the world.

Down There is a record of neuroses, jealousies and inadequacies. But it doesn’t overcompensate for previous group success. If anything, it deconstructs to the point of equivocation. “Laughing Hieroglyphic” is a would-be perfect introduction. It starts with an oozing primordial start-stop that eventually solidifies into a sleeker version of Tare’s most signature songs, particularly “For Reverend Green”; it’s both instantly recognizable and noticeably matured. “3 Umbrellas” proves this isn’t a fluke, either, and that he’s capable of a fugue-state call-and-return with himself that is emotionally complex while still linguistically vague. In other words, a real return to form.

Or so it seems. The break down that follows is subtle. The creeping suspicion that something is missing starts with “Oliver Twist,” where the dancey animalism gives way to weekend vampirism. And by the time he gets to the formless, ominously titled “Glass Bottom Boat” and “Cemeteries,” it becomes clear that either the well’s run dry or the fatalism’s at an all-time high. Form breaks down into experimentalism for experimenting’s sake. Here is where the solo performance becomes truly detrimental, as well. These noodly interludes have appeared on every Animal Collective album since Feels, but were always anchored by the fully realized songs into which they fed. On Down There, they have to stand alone on their own merits -- which ultimately fail. Tare attempts to end things on a high note with “Lucky 1,” but standing alone it can’t salvage such a middling middle. The name itself takes on a cynical tone, something that upon retrospect is prevalent throughout the album. Looking back to the hopefulness of Spirit They’re Gone closer “Someday I’ll Grow to Be as Tall as a Giant,” it’s hard to imagine that this is how it’d feel once that dream came true.

Ultimately, when considering this record, returning to Feels seems to be the best place to start. It was the start of Animal Collective’s total cohesion as a band, which means it was also the point where Tare began to get “lost in the mixture.” Down There, then, is an attempt at extracting himself from the DNA of so many songs that supported and provided structure to his ideas, even as they consumed him. In doing so, however, he loses so much of what made songs from “Grass” to “Fireworks” to “Summertime Clothes” so special in the first place. For Avey Tare, the mixture is a gift and a curse.

By Evan Hanlon

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