Release Date: Oct 26, 2010
Record label: Paw Tracks
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Experimental Rock, Indie Folk
Ever so discreetly, an Avey Tare (aka Dave Portner) solo record has bubbled to the foggy surface. Inspired by crocodiles, recorded by Deakin, and sloshing amok through rhythmic swamplands, Down There is the inkiest output from Portner since Here Comes the Indian. “Laughing Hieroglyphic” churns in the bog, “Ghost of Books” chatters at the wind, and all nine jams attain cohesion by pulling up beats from below.
It’s impossible to describe Avey Tare’s solo debut, Down There, without making explicit reference to Animal Collective, both for his pivotal membership in that group and the inextricable similarities in sound. Down There is not an Animal Collective album, a distinction made clear via subtle differences in tone and delivery, and though the resemblance is clear, it makes enough of an effort to tweak the group’s signature affectations to feel vital on its own. The most basic difference is tonal, with a focus on darkness and pain that eventually leaks into the rhythm and pacing of the songs.
Like any great band, Animal Collective’s dynamic revolves around the distinct artistic sensibilities of its members. Noah Lennox, a.k.a. Panda Bear, writes songs with melodies that glide and soar. Though his music often touches on darkness, it does so from abstraction - see the indecipherably angelic crooning of his first solo effort, Young Prayer, for example.
Considering Avey Tare’s seeming reluctance to create a solo album until now — his record with Kria Brekkan being, in retrospect, probably more of a one-off — Down There came swaddled in a lot of questions, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t answer every one of them over the course of its nine tracks: Will Tare tear up the floorboards of the Animal Collective sound to leave a resounding Solo mark on the indie populace? No. Unlike Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, Down There isn’t Tare’s coming out party as a lone wolf apart from his pack; rather, it is a further exploration of AT’s contributions to the Animal Collective sound. In fact, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that this record could have BEEN the new AC record, flowing as seamlessly from the Merriweather Post Pavillion think-tank as it does.
It's best to think of Baltimore's freak-folk quartet Animal Collective – of which Avey Tare, aka David Portner, is a member – as less a band and more an evolving musical project with changing line-ups and names. He may be the second member of Animal Collective to release a solo album, following Panda Bear, but it was produced by bandmate Deakin, and just as Panda Bear's Person Pitch fed into Animal Collective's own Merriweather Post Pavilion, this could have been released under the umbrella name and few would notice. Loaded with typically murky, watery beats and trademark wordless backing vocals, it's an off-kilter, densely hypnotic listen.
Animal Collective's Dave Portner told us in a recent interview that Down There, his first solo album as Avey Tare, grew out of a negative emotional atmosphere: "[The record] primarily comes from being bummed out-- which, I felt like in the past two years, I've had a darker time". And indeed, in terms of both general mood and sound, Down There is among the darkest pieces of music to emerge from a member of Animal Collective. The images of the crocodile on the album's cover and in promotional photos hint at the swampy vibe, but the animal association could be extended further: You can almost see Portner's head barely above water, not exactly drowning but having a hard time holding on regardless.
Whenever a band has two singer/songwriters, fans are naturally inclined to designate one as the “Lennon” of the group and the other as the “McCartney”. Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) has already made a strong impression with his solo work, but where he sits exactly on the Lennon/McCartney spectrum has been hard to ascertain as Avey Tare (Dave Portner) has never released a solo work for comparison. Additionally, their respective contributions to Animal Collective have never marked either as definitively “Lennon” or “McCartney”.
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.
Curious beast, the [a]Animal Collective[/a] solo album. On one hand, you’ve got a fine specimen like [a]Panda Bear[/a]’s 2007 effort [b]‘Person Pitch’[/b], which splashed through sunny lagoons a stone’s throw from land the Collective would later explore more thoroughly with 2009’s massively acclaimed career highpoint [b]‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’[/b]. Then on the other, you’ve got something like [b]‘Pullhair Rubeye’[/b], an album [b]Dave ‘Avey Tare’ Portner[/b] recorded with his wife [b]Kría Brekkan[/b], then released playing backwards (the polite term being ‘inessential’).Happily, Portner’s newie, [b]‘Down There’[/b], is far easier to recommend.
Dave Portner, aka Avey Tare, is ready to slow things the fuck down, and it’s hard to blame him. It seems like he and his bandmates in Animal Collective have been whirling dervishes for the last 10 years – first writing, touring, and recording with creative restlessness, and then later writing, recording, and touring like a traditional careerist band – until eventually they became the newest token avant-garde band okay for the masses to love, folding mainstream college partiers and NPR-listening yuppies into the circle of underground fanboys, primal spazzes, and hipster trendspotters. All the attention alone would be enough to produce withdrawal for the once low profile and arty Portner, but in the time period between releasing Merriweather Post Pavilion and the recording of his first proper solo album Down There he also weathered a dissolved marriage, a seriously ill sibling, and a death in the family.