Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Deakin - Sleep Cycle Review

During Animal Collective's rise to critical, and semi-commercial, acclaim fans got to enjoy a vast array of musical styles all coinciding with greatness. The four-man tag team went on a tear in the 2000's, improving their output with each release. And then, in preparation of 2010's Merriweather Post Pavilion, it was revealed Deakin was not a part of the creative process. The quality was assuredly grand, their most renowned work to this day, convincing many that the somewhat mysterious artist's presence was not an essential one. In many Indie circles he's come to be known as the punching bag, the virtual laughing stock of the group who comes and goes as pleases, the quality unchanged regardless of his cooperation. 2012's disappointing Centipede Hz was his formal return, 2016's even more disappointing Painting With was his swift exit. Regardless of his existence Animal Collective is, and will still be, Animal Collective. Sleep Cycle, his long-awaited, partially Kickstarter-funded solo debut, stunts any and all of these criticisms. For the man who's known for contributing the least just released a project that's single-handily better than anything AnCo-affiliated in the past five years. 

In 2009, when he decided to depart temporarily from Animal Collective, Deakin began a Kickstarter that would help fund a trip and concert in Mali, subsequently allowing him to find himself and record an album in the process. That album has arrived, but far past its intended due date, drawing criticisms that are entirely founded, much like Deakin's excuses for the delay; a flooded studio, perfectionism, and insecurities to name a few. What does all this mean for the album? Not much actually. Six tracks may not seem like much but the passion, purpose and density found within can hardly be ignored. He found his voice hidden in the catacombs of early Animal Collective, inspired by the minuscule limbo of Panda Bear's early tones, cradling his vocal chords as if they're the most delicate things on earth. So if you're like most people who've been disappointed with Animal Collective's recent works, now that they've strayed too far from the source material, Deakin is here to bring you back to that golden age. The constant detachment from the group may have actually done Deakin well, for while he's sure to have matured in these past seven years, the content of the music stays vividly in the early 2000's, a twisted AnCo fantasy that blossoms older works in a newer hue.

Sleep Cycle begins with its most powerful song, 'Golden Chords.' In the hauntingly beautiful opening Deakin comes to grips with his own insecurities, questioning why he harbors these feelings whilst simultaneously answering his fans' questions on his whereabouts. "Stop asking is that something I'm not anymore, a brother to shake these broken chords till they turn gold" he wearily swoons, like a seagull whose lost his flock. It's the most lyrically dense, poetically able track to come out of the collective since Avey Tare hollered about frightened babies on 'Fireworks.' The true power of 'Golden Chords' doesn't fully hit until 'Just Am' attacks its solemn ending with a jungle bass rhythm. It's there that it dawns on you, did Deakin really hold my attention hostage for six and a half minutes with just words and an acoustic guitar? Yes, yes he did. And he doesn't aim at letting it go anytime soon. 'Just Am,' the eight-minute lead single, relives glee-filled wanderlust before fading to ambient ambiguity, while later on, 'Footy' accomplishes the opposite by coming in hard and aggressive before lightening the load to classic Psychedelic Pop.

That's all to say Sleep Cycle isn't exactly original, Animal Collective did do this a decade ago. So while the true group does continue to progress, or regress, using a different foundation each time, Deakin is just satisfied to live in the era where they were at their best. Each track could easily find a comparison elsewhere. 'Golden Chords' sees a lonely friend in 'The Softest Voice,' 'Footy' sounds almost too similar to 'Cuckoo Cuckoo,'  and 'Seed Song' could pass as an expertly composed outtake from one of their technologically ambient pieces. Grips of originality aside, this album is good because the music it elicits from was good too. Sleep Cycle as a whole flows flawlessly together, the transparency unrivaled in this day and age. The ability to make aesthetically similar but structurally varied songs was always an Animal Collective trademark, it's a breath of fresh air to see that return in 2016 thanks to Deakin. The man who was held back by his own whim successfully outpaced those he called bandmates, the differences between quality is striking. Not even Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, the best of the group's bunch since 2010, can attest to the encapsulating beauty of Sleep Cycle.

Failing to mention the album's closer would be a massive foresight on my behalf, so let's discuss the magnificent 'Good House.' Similar in pacing to 'Golden Chords,' these two companion pieces could be placed nowhere else on the album than as they are now; bookended brothers. There's certainly enough variety between the two to keep them apart though, despite them being intrinsically linked. As opposed to 'Golden Chords,' 'Good House' does bring in minimal percussion, churning along at a snail's pace, a collage of distant echoes fill the walls, turning screeches into something endearing. It's wonderfully peaceful, even if the lyrics may not bode that same descriptor. It also puts a cap on 2016's most surprising record thus far. Like a caterpillar that blossoms into a fully-coated butterfly, shocking all those in the animal kingdom, Deakin deserves your ooh's and awe's, and all the attention wrongfully forwarded to Painting With. Fans of Animal Collective, this is your proper follow-up. Those longing for the splendid days of yore, where campfires ruled the night, Sleep Cycle's here to visit you.

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