Avey Tare | Down There
Most Likely To: be considered accessible by people with a very broad definition of the word.
I admire Animal Collective very much. Lord knows it’s been a long while since someone has managed to force rock music to speak an entirely new vocabulary – maybe not since Loveless – but that’s exactly what Animal Collective have been attempting to do for most of the past decade with their disembodied vocals, odd time structures, and music built from random sound effects and noises. Of late, they’ve been trying to employ hip-hop technology in a completely different way to take pop music to a completely different place.
Of course, admiration is not synonymous with enjoyment, and while I applaud the members of Animal Collective for their attempts to teach an old dog new tricks, to my ancient and atrophied ears it doesn’t work often enough to make me a full-fledged fan. When all the parts do click, on songs like “Did You See the Words,” “Grass,” and “My Girls,” the results are pretty freaking magnificent. Too often for me, though, I sit and listen to collections of random sounds and unrelated vocals and wait patiently for a song to take shape and it never does.
Collective member Avey Tare’s debut solo album is therefore a frustrating listen for me, because I know I’m supposed to love it. Every other critic on the planet is insisting that I should, going so far as to talk up its great accessibility and smoothness. And I do like it. Love, however, continues to elude me.
To me, this proves two things – one, that like admiration and enjoyment, the word “accessible” when used by a music critic is not synonymous with the word “accessible” when used by the average Abner on the street; and two, I guess I just do not now nor have I ever done enough drugs when listening to certain musicians, since I suspect that maybe Down There would make more sense to me if there were a hookah involved.
There’s an awful lot to like about the album, though, and given the fact that it has grown on me with each listen, maybe the key to getting it is simply time and repetition. The atmosphere and textures are pretty endlessly fascinating, and they draw you in even when the songs themselves seem to initially lack any sort of structure, hooks or logic. But it’s that pervasive feeling of lack of structure that is my major stumbling block. I hear the sounds, I hear the vocals, sometimes I hear the melodies, but I’m not always able to decode what the point of all of it is.
A few tracks do hit with immediate impact. “3 Umbrellas” layers multiple vocal tracks atop a percolating instrumental track that sounds like an automaton pounding on an oriental gong in a way that all the parts fit together like a complex puzzle. The closing combination of “Heather in the Hospital” and “Lucky 1” form a gorgeous, ethereal suite that on their own make the album worth picking up. Songs like these sum up everything that’s appealing about Animal Collective – the combination of the dizzying and disorienting with the enticing and entrancing – and are what make me willing to continue to try to chip away at the less immediate material. Like an optical illusion, there’s obviously something there and I feel like if I stare at it long enough it will reveal itself.
So in the end, Down There is not an album that I immediately understand the appeal of, but to Tare’s immense credit he makes me want to and makes me more than willing to admit that my inability to always grasp what’s going on likely has more to do with me than with him. I’m not sure that I will ever be on the same page with critics who seem to feel that Animal Collective and its spin-off products are as listener friendly as Badfinger or someone similar, but I admire the band’s members enough that I really do hope to get there someday.
Watch the video for “Lucky 1″: