If you’re interested in Animal Collective, you know Down There is the first solo album by David Portner, aka Avey Tare. You’re also more used to Panda Bear’s solo collections, but don’t expect Person Pitch (or what you expect to get from Tom Boy). Portner adds a different element to AC and this is a distinctly darker monster. (Don’t worry, it’s not Pullhair Rubeye … though some of us did find going backwards interesting, for what it’s worth…)
The crocodile-inspired Down There was recorded in June by Portner and AC bandmate Josh Dibb, aka Deakin, in a church in upstate New York. The 35-minute collection mixes a playful kaleidoscopic uplift with a bubbly, boggy undertow. You got a sense of this via the first single and closer “Lucky 1.” There are songs about ghosts, rain, cemeteries, the hospital, umbrellas, skulls living in rocks. It’s a damp, sloshing, eerie outing with the occasional bent, slowed vocals — but one that never loses its “sunny” pop pulse. Portner manages to make things skeletal and endlessly lush (grab your earphones). It also feels both sketchy and fully realized. (All pluses.)
Down There opens with “Laughing Hieroglyphic,” an urgent airy (sort of) love song that feels like it was built on the back of a cranking circus pump organ. It’s the longest track on the album, lending weight to beginnings. The sample at the end of it is threaded into the chirpier, vocally overlapping “3 Umbrellas,” one that has a beach-side “Day-O” vibe and, because of its vocal layers, may remind you of Animal Collective more than the others. That feeling shifts on the murkier, more submerged, glitchy, and iced “Oliver Twist,” a song that features vocals that sound like they’ve been recorded on wet tape. Even then, you’ll be toe-tapping. Open-ended and abstract doesn’t mean without hooks. The echoed shivers, loops and fragile notes of “Glass Bottom Boat,” the mostly suffocated “Heads Hammock” (which turns into a boy-girl chant-along), and especially the warping, gurgling sing-along of “Ghost Of Books,” all feature assured melodies and, importantly here, an emotional tug within the waves and shadows. Things get darker on “Cemeteries,” but not too dark. (Of note: “Heather In The Hospital” sounds like Ween.)
If you’re a fan of earlier, sparer and more mysterious Animal Collective you should be way into Down There’s understated, complex collection of just-in-time-for-Halloween pop music.
Down There is out 10/26 via Paw Tracks.