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Avey Tare – Down There

October 25, 2010

Update 9/27/11- I’ve discovered at long last the version of this insanely great album I’ve been obsessed with for nearly a year was only a demo and not the released studio version of Down There. I am sorry for any confusion while reading this review, however, if you stumble upon the 33:12 demo version then proceed.

After over 10 years exploring the realms of experimental independent music with his band Animal Collective, Dave Portner better known by his alias Avey Tare released his first solo effort Down There today. The multi-instrumentalist and primary song writer of Animal Collective first major attempt at music away from the band came in 2007 with Pullhair Rubeye, a duet album with his wife Krisitn Anna Valtysdottir. The album of soft melodic guitar and piano duets shocked fans and critics alike at the duos decision to release the album with the songs completely reversed.

However much has changed since the duos release three years ago. Portner’s band member and secondary Animal Collective songwriter Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox released his 3rd critically acclaimed solo effort with a 4th due by early 2011, Portner’s sister was diagnosed with cancer, his grandmother passed and he and Valtysdottir separated. All these changes in Portner’s life influenced his first solo effort as the change in song structure and overall sound reflects that. Down There resembles the experimentation Portner did in the early years of Animal Collective with the heavy use of distorted instruments, atmospheric sound and varying time signatures. Yet Portner’s style is completely different from anything he has ever released before and stands on its own as something completely fresh and innovative. Upon first listen the album sounds dreary, odd and unstable with only a few songs leaving lasting impressions. However like a fine imported beer Down There is an acquired taste and each subsequent listen only expands the bursting flavors.

With Animal Collective Portner has previously explored creating different atmospheres with their albums, the most noteworthy being Strawberry Jam, an album closely reflecting the title with a slew of tracks that can only be described as tangy and sweet due to it’s sharp beats and melodic sound. However on his own, Porter constructs an atmosphere never before felt with Animal Collective. Down There is darker, wet, swampy and damp while reflecting Portner’s maturity as a musician and proving himself as an equally great solo songwriter and musician as his partner Lennox.

Down There’s opening track “Laughing Hieroglyphics” isn’t necessarily a reflection of the remaining eight tracks but it sets up expectations for the rest of the album. The light taps of shallow bongos don’t match the chords played on the keyboard yet it’s Portner’s soft whispering vocals that tie the song together and halfway in the rhythmic chaos slowly begins to bind together. The introduction of distorted strumming of an electric guitar begins and becomes the sound of choice for the following song “3 Umbrellas.” Complete with white noise, overlapping vocals, inaudible lyrics and repetitive strumming guitar chords “3 Umbrellas” introduces an otherworldly, metallic and airy sound to the album.

The albums 3rd and most impressive song “Oliver Twist” combines a pounding drumbeat rooted in club dance music with Portner’s voice donning cryptic eerie vocals. While “Glass Bottom Boat’s” use of repeated vocal samples create the sound of frogs croaking with Portner’s use of interchanging backing vocals resembling flies making the song sound murky and dank. However as the guitar changes its soft nearly inaudible strums for more prominently fierce ones the song emulates the feeling of boating through a dark swamp into the calmness of river where Portner’s voice imitates animals of the wild.

“Ghost of Books” becomes the albums most cheerful sound as the song combines a beautiful melody of acoustic guitar, chimes, hand claps and soft overdubbed vocals. The albums next track “Cemeteries” returns to the otherworldly alien sound through fuzzy vocals that become the only song that mostly resembles the sound of Animal Collective due to Portner’s style of singing. However the vocal harmonies come off like a distorted choir and the simple drum pattern seems to have been created through a digital audio workstation. Although they are a contradiction of sounds Portner’s expertise allows them to easily and coherently meld well together.

Continuing the theme of crocodile infested waters is “Heads Hammock”, a song that sounds like it was produced entirely underwater. The effect comes not just from the gargled submerged sound of the vocals but from the mixing of the sound that fades the vocals in and out and changes back and forth in volume. The bang of the drums creates a bouncing reverb that sounds as if the drumsticks are hitting liquid before their target. Portner’s most personally explicit, “Heather in the Hospital” sounds as if it were produced using a glass harp giving it an uplifting light airy feeling although the song’s lyrics discuss the personal turmoil of being in a hospital room.

The album ends with “Lucky 1”, an infectious and captivating song revolving around the repetitive sound of fuzzy bass chords. Urging the listener or perhaps narrator to “fly off from harder days” and “feel like the lucky one.” The lyrics are just as catchy as the chords as it repeats the question “were you crying?” The effects utilized throughout each song establish a slithering and at times menacing sound reminiscent of the crocodile theme of the art work on the album’s cover. Portner’s solo effort won’t impress everyone including his most diehard fans however anyone with a keen taste for experimental and atmospheric music will find solace and enjoyment in Avey Tare’s newly impressive album.

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