Sometimes an album takes a while to really sink in. You might listen to it for a week straight when it is initially released and decide that you love it or hate it, and then a month later have completely changed your mind once you have really had an opportunity to spend some time with it, to explore it, to absorb it completely. For me, this is the case with Avey Tare’s “Down There.”
“Down There” was Tare's first legitimate solo release, and an impressive one at that. During press promotion before its release, the album was purported to have "deep sloshy rhythms, waterlogged bass and moonlit breaks" and for the most part, this is a pretty accurate description of his album.
When it was unexpectedly released in October, I listened to it a few times and enjoyed it enough. There were a few tracks that I thought stood out and a handful that I thought could have been left off or should have been left in the incubator a bit longer. As the months have passed and I have had more opportunities to listen to the album in different ways and at different times, I have grown to find it a remarkably well made and impressive piece of work.
The album is concise, clocking in at less than 35 minutes. The brevity plays to the album's advantage, though. The album is dense with lush textures, innumerable layers of vocals and instruments, and thick with sounds that are often times buried deep within the mix. With so many elements floating around the vast atmosphere of the album, it definitely becomes clear that extensive time spent with it is the only way you will even begin to peel back any more than the surface layer.
In an interview titled "Down There News" on his website, Tare discussed some of the thematic details of the record, calling it his "death album" and talking about how it would be darker than much of his previous work with Animal Collective.
And he was right. The album is dark both thematically and in terms of its sound. Some reviews have called the album a work of "underwater techno” — the album is full of the watery textures listeners have come to associate with Animal Collective, and it does feature some more traditional electronic beats and rhythms. It almost sounds like it was recorded in a murky cavern that exists miles beneath the water's surface, catching all of the drips and echoes as they bounce around the cave’s walls.
Thematically, songs such as "Heather in a Hospital" and "Laughing Hieroglyphic" deal with ideas of sadness, loneliness and illness. Even a song such as "3 Umbrellas," which sounds happy, has a certain sad quality to it when the lyrics (referring to his "three umbrellas" — the other members of Animal Collective — that help alleviate the "heaviness") are heard in the context of news regarding Tare’s separation from his wife.
My early feelings toward the album were mostly based on the fact that much of the center of the album is built around gloomy, shadowy songs that felt too slow and too morose. However, I have learned to accept that these songs are not necessarily for me to enjoy — they are emotional outlets for the artist where he can drain the depressive thoughts from his mind, allowing him to get to the more joyful moments.
Almost to prove it true, tracks such as "Heads Hammock" and "Lucky 1" provide the brief glimpses of moonlight that push their way through the dismal, night-time death swamp. “Heads Hammock” bounces along with a bubbly rhythm as Tare sings about someone making him happy and letting another person move on with their life. “Lucky 1” rivals only “3 Umbrellas” for the title of “Happiest-Sounding Song on Down There.” Tare’s vocals ride a kaleidoscopic synth riff as strange gurgles and glass-bottle percussion echo from the depths of the track.
“Down There” is a strong album that you may not be taken with immediately, given its damp, dark tone — but give it some time and plenty of listens and you will begin to appreciate not just the quality craftsmanship (Josh Deakin, of Animal Collective, did a phenomenal job behind the mixing board) but also the themes and emotions explored through those unique ways in which the members of Animal Collective are so skilled.