Avey Tare Eucalyptus

[Domino; 2017]

Styles: fantasy dispersed, sound songs, free-folk
Others: Animal Collective

The slow disintegration of what made Animal Collective such an invigorating and unexpected figurehead of 21st-century music has been one of the bigger letdowns of the past several years. I’m less confident that Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Geologist, and Deakin have much chemistry left in them as a group that also extends its welcoming hand to us, their smeared approximation of pop music only fleetingly tapping into the restless curiosity and peculiar simplicity at the heart of all their greatest work. After such a beloved string of albums that continuously sought to reshape both the psychedelic and the familiar, Centipede Hz and Painting With feel like imitations of the kinds of sounds that made records like Feels and Strawberry Jam such consistently surprising listens. These newer, sonically-driven swathes of mulching noise stand in harsh opposition to the musical essence of their earlier albums, each of which felt like a further discovery of what Animal Collective could possibly be.

And yet even in spite of this seeming decline in inspiration, Eucalyptus is another powerful reminder of exactly how visionary these four childhood friends truly are. Much like Panda Bear’s PBVSGR or Deakin’s Sleep Cycle, David Portner’s newest project as Avey Tare reflects a particular fractal of the Animal Collective landscape re-mapped out in such detail to reveal new contours in its shape (in other words, the opposite of the “everything-now” approach of the last few full-band albums). Eucalyptus stands unexpectedly far apart from much of Avey Tare’s solo output, dialing in his usual unhinged zaniness for a calm, collected stream of songs that flirt with accessibility without sacrificing their loose, dispersed sense of assemblage. Dedicated to Portner’s newfound home of California, Eucalyptus plays like a slowly built collection of sounds gathered from mornings spent making coffee in the kitchen and afternoons wasted soaking in the cool of the air conditioner. Although these compositions possess a chordal backbone, they are generously steeped in gossamer passages of fleeting tones, recurring signals, and most of all, silence. The sheer range of sounds exhibited throughout Eucalyptus prohibits anything resembling live, one-take improv, but the album still feels as if it were created spontaneously, the progression of moods and colors so natural that it almost seems as if it could go on forever.

Ironically, the songs throughout Eucalyptus resemble the past couple Animal Collective records, in that they seem constructed more out of raw sounds and textures than sculpted harmonies and rhythms. But the crucial difference is in the restraint Portner applies to his fantastical, impressionistic portraits of enchanting minutiae. Songs like “Melody Unfair” glide above their achingly strummed acoustic guitar foundation, Avey Tare’s voice providing a faint leading light, as the real heart of the music falls within the winding vocals of Angel Deradoorian and the strangely comforting noise of a rapidly pattering drum of some kind. Likewise, “Ms. Secret” carries one of the strongest melodies Portner has written in some time, a brisk, sweeping folk number as eager as it is mournful, yet the brief flashes of pedal steel guitar and flute (courtesy of Susan Alcorn and Eyvind Kang, respectively) are as crucial to the song as Portner’s lyrics about “the old times, when nothing had angles, and no one was cheating on us.” Perhaps Eucalyptus is a pining plea for the innocence that produced such autumnal masterpieces as Campfire Songs and Sung Tongs, but its sense of dissipated whimsy and hushed craft makes it unique from those (admittedly similar) works in an invigorated, cleansing way.

Although named for the fragrant Australian tree that now dots the hills of Southern California, Eucalyptus is closer to a portrait of interior human architecture than it is the world that surrounds us. Avey Tare’s stream of vanishing sounds, creaking floorboards, and silently intonated lullabies is romantic in its faded resemblance to our radiant, ever-growing environment; but as with Portner’s newly adopted city of Los Angeles, the supposed nature exists purely as an extension of the human desire to create and actualize what we see in our minds. In that way, Eucalyptus hums along like the casual spirit of humanity, both beholden to the world and strangely set apart from it, a dense collection of neurons and senses acting equally upon impulse and calculation, at once knowable and forever masked behind elements we can’t truly grasp. Perhaps what we formerly invested ourselves in as the notion of “Animal Collective” has passed on, never to return, but in Eucalyptus, we find that what tied us to that idea in the first place is more eternal and giving than we ever could have dreamed.

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