Animal Collective’s career has lasted so long now that it’s getting harder to remember a time when they were actually a difficult band. Sure, they’re still plenty weird, but something like “Peacebone” or “Brother Sport” just isn’t as demanding as “Infant Dressing Gown” or “Two Sails on a Sound.” The band has evolved to become interesting in new ways that aren’t as challenging but somehow still as rewarding. And this was my unspoken gripe against Merriweather Post Pavilion: the album was too easy, too digestible to be consistently rewarding. Animal Collective, and Avey Tare in particular, is at his best when he makes serious demands on his listeners. With that in mind, it’s easy to see that Tare’s first solo album, Down There, is a conscious attempt to reclaim some of that magical weirdness that dominated Animal Collective’s early years.
In that sense, then, Down There is a success. The album is filled with swampy songs treading dark, murky water. Everything from Tare’s voice to the processed beats sound wet, dripping with condensation and cloaked in heat fog. Even the catchiest songs eschew structure in favor of a kind of viscous fluidity. The best songs seem to just pour out of your speakers. While all of that is certainly true, the most surprising thing about Down There is how much Tare can no longer sustain the weirdness. This is a man who has perfected his ability to write a memorable vocal melody to accompany an exotic beat. In other words, he can’t help but write great songs that expand the acceptable boundaries of pop music. At its best, like on “3 Umbrellas” and “Heads Hammock” and “Lucky 1,” Tare can successfully combine his poppy melodies with his abstract instrumentation. Where it falls short, though, is when Tare seems lost in the song, unable to craft a melody that can guide him out of the gnarly swamp he has made for himself. Both “Laughing Hieroglyphic” and “Ghost Books” meander in search of a purpose. Even still, “Laughing” has a couple of moments of surprisingly soulful blues-like phrasing.
Just as Panda Bear’s Young Prayer was ostensibly an ode to his father, Down There is a somber album that darkly reflects some difficult times in Tare’s life recently. Between the trials of AC’s success to his sister’s cancer and his slow separation from his wife, Tare has plenty about which to write. To his credit, the album never quite becomes a drag. In the end, the album stays consistently dark enough for form a cohesive statement that sounds like being lost in your own life.
Rating: 7 / 10