Release Date: Jul 21, 2017
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
What's the most frightening signifier of apocalypse? The members of Animal Collective tend to focus on life's celebratory emotions and experiences instead of the damning ones. Dave Portner, aka Avey Tare, has suddenly picked his own champion for the end of humanity. It's not politics, flooding, or even cars. It's coral.
And yet even in spite of this seeming decline in inspiration, Eucalyptus is another powerful reminder of exactly how visionary these four childhood friends truly are. Much like Panda Bear’s PBVSGR or Deakin’s Sleep Cycle, David Portner’s newest project as Avey Tare reflects a particular fractal of the Animal Collective landscape re-mapped out in such detail to reveal new contours in its shape (in other words, the opposite of the “everything-now” approach of the last few full-band albums). Eucalyptus stands unexpectedly far apart from much of Avey Tare’s solo output, dialing in his usual unhinged zaniness for a calm, collected stream of songs that flirt with accessibility without sacrificing their loose, dispersed sense of assemblage.
T he recurring criticism of Avey Tare's solo work to date has been that it strays too close to the output of his day job as vocalist for Baltimore oddballs Animal Collective. In truth, so distinctive is Tare's slacker warble that you could stick it on top of a recording of Gregorian chanting and it would probably still sound like his parent band. Yet, there was definitely an inescapable hint of AC's limpid weirdo-pop on 2010's Down There and 2014's Enter the Slasher House.
Thanks to the landmark Person Pitch, 2007 was undoubtedly Panda Bear's year. But Strawberry Jam - the full band Animal Collective album released just months later - convinced me that it was Avey Tare who would one day produce the real opus, thanks to powerhouse songwriting like the back-to-back of 'For Reverend Green' and 'Fireworks'. Sadly, I've been disappointed ever since.
In recent years, experimental pop purveyors Animal Collective have sort of acted like a Bizarro Voltron, working better apart (Panda Bear's Tomboy and Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, and, to a lesser extent, the debut from Dave Portner's power trio Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks) than together (2012's ambitious but uneven Centipede Hz and 2016's underwhelming Painting With). Eucalyptus, the new solo album from sometimes-frontman Avey Tare, may be the salve longtime fans of the band needed. A sort of If I Could Only Remember My Name for a new generation, Eucalyptus finds Portner going back-to-basics, taking listeners on a psychedelic but steady trip over 15 tracks with atmospheric and shifting samples ("Lunch Out of Order" Pt.
Whether out of a creative need to one-up themselves or a conscious effort to hold on to the wider audience they'd built up in the wake of Merriweather Post Pavilion, each of Animal Collective's last few LPs have been busier, zanier, and more eager to awe the last. By last year's Painting With, all that forced jubilation had begun to sound cloying or even pandering, which, ironically, is the last thing anybody wants from this band. That may explain why increasingly some of the best Animal Collective music has come not from their group efforts but from their many side projects.
It makes sense then, that since Avey Tare (a.k.a. David Portner) moved to the west coast, he has embraced the concept of the eucalyptus tree, including its latent psychedelic properties. The Animal Collective frontman is certainly no stranger to reinvention. Whether it's his cosmic pop outings as one third of Slasher Flicks or the experimental noise rock of Terrestrial Tones, Portner has made a habit of being an unintentional standard bearer for unselfconscious geeky electronica.
Avey Tare's music has always grasped with the ideas of space and nature. From his earliest works with Animal Collective to his 2014 LP as Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, David Portner has used nature as his muse to bring to light his writings about love and loss. On his latest LP Eucalyptus, Portner once again brings his kaleidoscopic musical mind to the forefront, but this time we find our singer/songwriter in a much softer and more subdued state of mind.
Avey Tare's second solo album starts with a simple strum and ends, via reflections on the qualities of coral, with strange whirring sounds and a cry of rage. Audacious, cryptic and meandering, Eucalyptus is both brilliant and infuriating, thanks mainly to the Animal Collective man's refusal to ditch the half-formed workouts that litter this LP. When Tare reins in his more outlandish instincts, as on Melody Unfair's rococo folk and the jumpy tribal pop of Jackson 5, he shows he is capable of producing songs as good as any in his band's oeuvre.
Avey Tare's 'Enter the Slasher House' saw the Animal Collective man form a three-piece band for the LP and the result was a groovy, psych-tinged rocker in the vein of Yeasayer. That record's drummer, Jeremy Hyman, isn't involved with this follow-up, 'Eucalyptus', but one-time Dirty Projector Angel Deradoorian remains part of what is now an expanded supporting cast, including Deakin on production duties. Themes of nature hang heavy over 'Eucalyptus' and if it felt like '…Slasher House' was flirting with psych in places, consider this a fully-fledged embrace.
Arriving a year after his band's colorful, ebullient Painting With LP, the second solo album by Animal Collective's Avey Tare (aka David Portner) takes a sharp turn from the sound of his group -- or at least from their post-Campfire Songs output. With a languid, sylvan atmosphere and majority-acoustic demeanor, it's a departure not only from his band, but, to a lesser degree, from 2010's Down There and his Slasher Flicks project. On the home-recorded (with Deakin) Eucalyptus, Tare fills the post of calm raconteur rather than outré hook courier, journeying cross-country along psychedelic side paths, particularly on the meandering opening tracks.
This year, with relatively little fanfare, Animal Collective released an EP called Meeting of the Waters . With only two members of the band's core quartet performing–co-lead vocalist Avey Tare and resident electronic tinkerer Geologist–it presented a clean break from the overbearing and inconsistent work the band has produced since its 2009 indie blockbuster Merriweather Post Pavilion . Slow and unfussy, Meeting of the Waters felt like an unofficial sequel to 2003's Campfire Songs , which saw the band playing humid suburban hymns on acoustic guitars, accompanied only by the wind and chirping of bugs around the Maryland back porch where they made it.