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Nearly two years removed from the immensely celebrated release of 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion, the members of Animal Collective have established themselves as poster boys for accessible experimentation. The album offers an unconventional take on conventional pop structures, hanging loosely to the fringes of mainstream psychedelia. With Merriweather Post Pavilion, as with group member Noah Lennox's solo album Person Pitch (released under the name Panda Bear), the instrumentation has moved in an electronic direction, with samples and looping serving as a foundation for both albums. Now, group member Avey Tare (a.k.a. David Portner) is releasing his solo debut, titled Down There, on which he explores the potential for electronic composition to create a sense of place.
According to Portner, the inspiration for Down There came from a crocodile — one of his favorite animals. The album opens with a deep, throaty monologue that gives way to rolling claps, wet drum kicks and reptilian warbles, set under a rocking harmonium. In "Glass Bottom Boat," Portner wades steadily through swampy soundscapes, complete with croaking synthesizers and grunting bass lines. Though most of the journey moves with this sense of murkiness, there's variation in the marsh. "Oliver Twist" is motored by a thumping four-on-the-floor bass kick, while "Cemeteries" is a percussion-less montage of bells, birds and chords.
A bird's-eye view reveals Down There to be a complete thought. Using elements from past ventures, like vocals steeped in reverb and abstract song structures, Portner has homed in on a specific ambiance with which his band has only flirted. Down There's saurian feel comes from a methodical approach to distortion and soundcraft, employed consistently without seeming redundant. The crocodile has emerged from the collective as an animal that stands on its own.
Down There will stream here in its entirety until its release on Oct. 20. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.