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Avey Tare: Down There
If necessary, take a moment and punish yourself for not knowing who Avey Tare is. Born David Portner, the 31-year old New Yorker is one of the founding members of experimentalist music group Animal Collective.
The much talked about but little known group has been crafting their music– a mixture of electronic noise, experimental rock and folk music– since 2000, and their Merriweather Post Pavilion was a resounding critical success in 2009. Hailed as one of the most original and unique records in years, it peaked at number 13 and 26 in the US and UK charts respectively. It beat off the albums of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The XX and Florence and The Machine to be awarded best album of 2009 by UK music critics.
The other founding member, Panda Bear will release his fourth solo album before 2011, while this is Avey Tare’s first solo project, bar a one-off duet album Pullhair Rubeye recorded with his ex-wife Kría Brekkan in 2007. The apple hasn’t fallen too far from the Animal Collective tree; as his new album Down There certainly makes for interesting listening.
The opening song ‘Laughing Hieroglyphic’ takes a good minute before any kind of melody appears. Persevering through the initial muffled demonic-sounding speech and the random curt beat has its reward: the song eventually kicks into a floaty urban hymn set over a deep lazy beat that you can skip to in slow motion - if you want. The vocals are deliberately strained, creating a contrast that at times climaxes to flawless.
The album continues in a similar vein till it hits 'Glass Bottom Boat.' With no discernable vocals or rhythm, it’s barely a song on your first listen. Listen again; though. It’s the type of complex piece of music engineering that Avey Tare and company enjoy throwing onto their record to test you. It’s as atmospheric and full of character as any song on the album, and it is cinematic in its sound.
It signals a subtle but distinctive change, as the proceeding ‘Ghost Books’ stages a slightly more jovial sound, which is echoed from there on, including the first single of the album, ‘Lucky 1’.
Like the aforementioned Merriweather Post Pavilion, this album is almost completely indefinable and intangible, for better and for worse. Originality and innovation have their price. It’s not a radio-friendly, verse-chorus-verse-chorus type of album. Inevitably, some will find it inaccessible.
Regardless of this, Down There is a triumph of one man’s clear and eloquent vision. Every note and sound feels like it has come straight from his body to yours; it feels pure and completely untainted. Avey Tare has created a stirring and imaginative piece of work that is sincere and welcoming. You can question the cryptic lyrics and the measures of the album, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it; it only matters that he does.
One of the shortest tracks on the album is ‘DMT Song’. Created with the help of bassist/vocalist, Thundercat, it is the most vocally dense song on the record. Slow and dreamy, with high-pitched, slightly dissonant, vocals, it's a good intro to the next track, ‘The Nightcaller’. Aptly titled, this song features a groovy dance bass underneath a synthesizer melody that sounds ideal for waving your arms around on the dance floor.
‘Getting There’, with vocals by Niki Randa, is reminiscent of Massive Attack. Not only because of the elongated vocals, but the muffled bass beat and dreamy bell sounds could certainly also have spawned from the brains of 3D and Daddy G. The same goes for ‘Hunger’; a song that sounds like it was recorded underwater and also features Randa. Its spacious melody is broken up by a bridge with echoing vocals and harpsichord-like keyboards.
Erykah Badu is the only vocalist to appear on the album that Flying Lotus hasn’t worked with previously. Her vocals work really well on the African sounding track ‘See Thru To U’ - hopefully, Badu will become incorporated into Ellison’s fixed team of vocalists.
‘Putty Boy Strut’ sounds like a broken toy gone mental, with a catchy musical theme that returns in the deeper layers of ‘Me Yesterday/Corded’.
‘Electric Candyman’ features vocals by Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, and is a slow track with male and female vocal melodies mixed together in a way that almost sounds disorienting. Yorke’s voice is hardly recognisable, which seems like a waste considering his great, and highly distinguishable, vocal abilities.