Thursday, July 27, 2017

Avey Tare - Eucalyptus Review

Up until this year, Animal Collective's career trajectory was marketably predictable. Ignoring the group's debut album in 2000, Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, which teased hidden Pop melodies, each album from Danse Manatee onwards has been more accessible than the last. What began as an Experimental outfit whimsically playing on a childlike sense of imagination turned, progressively, into an Indie-defining coalition gamboling around a fantasy quagmire which then, progressively, escaped oddities for centralized Psychedelic Pop. The music always stayed true-to-heart, as expecting the callow fledgling's to continue their aberrant ways into their late 30's would've been unreasonable. Change in any direction is a positive thing in the arts, as yearning for a return to a time long past doesn't arouse growth, both for the artist and the medium. Strawberry Jam's splendor may have dwarfed Painting With, but without that varying amelioration, the radiant nostalgia dousing Animal Collective's mid-2000's era would've been lost. However, 2017 is different. Instead of moving forwards, Avey Tare has consciously made a decision to move back. After The Painters signaled the death of their eager elation, Meeting Of The Waters flowed through field recordings of a foreign land. With Eucalyptus, Avey Tare's personal nostalgia is his primary inspiration.

To understand where we're going, we need to understand eucalyptus plants. That's because even the most disparaging Animal Collective album has a curious aesthetic etched into it. Found primarily in the heartland of Australia, eucalyptus plants cover entire forests, consuming swamplands, giving off a smog-like mist during periods of warmth. All that's missing is a campfire, some acoustics, and consumable psychedelics and you've defined Animal Collective's past to a tee. See to the aptly titled Campfire Songs, or the hallucinatory EP's known as People and Water Curses. Bits of forgotten echoes resonate through Eucalyptus' dense coverage, and if it weren't for Avey Tare's more mature tone, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a lost collection of misshapen ideas. From the instant 'Season High' creeps into existence, the excessive merriment of Painting With, or even Tare's previous LP Slasher Flicks, vanishes into the elusive mist. Hollowed out ambience that sounds exactly like what it is - poor field recordings taken of a stirring rainforest - accompany Tare's doleful acoustic guitar and poetic dismay. Buckle in, because that represents the bulk of Eucalyptus, an album that's primary difference from AnCo's past derives from the disillusionment of the dangerous forest, rather than the ecstasy of its enchanted reverie.

While that represents the grand scope, there are phantasmic resuscitation's of Tare's exuberant past dotting Eucalyptus. The world in 2017 may be filled with dread, but every so often a glimmer of hope, or exuberant nostalgia, surfaces. These, unsurprisingly, are Eucalyptus' best material, and only partially because of their more engaging spirit. Really, it's their insistence on standing out from the sorrowful Tare that standouts like 'Jackson 5,' 'Romper,' or 'Selection Of A Place' entice, and emit, a reaction. The latter, a reworked version of the same track on Meeting Of The Waters, improves by escaping the plodding indecisiveness we saw earlier in the year. As for new songs though, 'Jackson 5' tantalizes with an adolescent urge, getting the most of the minimal instrumentation by clanging and clinking each sound in jittery unison, as 'Romper' returns us to Tare's vocal prominence, where unexpected accents and tones nudge against one another like children one-upping each other on the playground. These moments, while glistening and giddy, are far too scarce for a 15-track album that exceeds one hour. The projects most similar to Eucalyptus, like Campfire Songs or Prospect Hummer, either failed in inception like the former or succeeded in brevity like the latter.

Of the remaining 13 songs, no other strays from the foundational elements Tare lays in front of us. Sparse Psychedelic Folk that, apart from the two-part 'Lunch Out Of Order,' never ventures into the unknown. The acoustics, dry and pure, run their course by 'Melody Unfair' as the realization that Tare's strumming reigns supreme becomes apparent. For a reflective mind, using Tare's heavy-hearted words might prove effective, but only under existential circumstances, like a week-long expedition into the desert or a late night rendezvous surrounded by flora. For the vast majority of listening experiences though, Eucalyptus comes up empty-handed, used better as background mood setting than focused entertainment. If you're not Ambient music, that's rarely a compliment. However, Eucalyptus tip-toes that line, and while Tare is present on every track, his spiraling ambiguity makes it so attentive listening isn't necessary. From 'Season High' to 'PJ,' 'In Pieces' to 'Sports In July,' Tare's meditative acoustics bobble in and out of consciousness, only sparked by the aforementioned highlights that aim at your auditory cortex. Considering the breadth of passivity here, it's tough to see Eucalyptus as anything more than idealess jargon, content with the minimal ingredients necessary to accentuate an aesthetic.

There are intermittent moments of intrigue that dispute the claim that all acoustic-based songs are bad though. While the three, five-minute opening tracks fail to invite any temptation, a few junctures elsewhere flourish adequately. 'Boat Race' incorporates some melodic strumming that stumbles off the beaten path, blemished only by a fluorescent glow that's atmospherically evocative. 'DR Aw One For J' experiments with droning tendencies, building the scene around the brisk campfire. And then there's the pieces like 'Coral Lords' and 'When You Left Me,' which falter instrumentally, but in doing so, give added interest to Tare's conspicuous emotion. It's a shame that it takes an hour for a well-executed acoustic solo to emerge, being that 'When You Left Me' is Eucalyptus' finale, and best conventional track. Strong, impassioned, and tying back into the album's concept, Tare's performance here is highly commendable. Another performance that can't go unnoted is that of Angel Deradoorian, a past collaborator of Tare's. On 'Sports In July,' 'Boat Race,' and especially 'Jackson 5,' comparisons to Deradoorian's 2015 record The Expanding Flower Planet can be felt amply. Positives aside, Eucalyptus' insistence on pandering to the past, and remaining disinterested in the present, cause Tare's reversal of style to feel a bit disingenuous.

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