When thinking about the directions taken by modern experimental music, the origins of those genre-spanning movements, and the key players involved, Animal Collective is sure to be mentioned. Widely known and best-remembered for their 2009 effort, “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” Animal Collective has been a constant presence in experimental rock and psychedelic music for over twenty years, including several studio albums, as well as a large catalog of solo work, primarily by Noah Lennox and David Portner, the two main artists of Animal Collective who perform as Panda Bear and Avey Tare, respectively.
All members of the band are highly skilled, a fact made clear by the quality of their solo work. Tare’s latest album, “Cows On Hourglass Pond” is no different. Teased for a couple months with the highly praised singles, “Saturdays (Again),” “HORS_,” and “Taken Boy,” “Cows On Hourglass Pond” is another foray into Tare’s mind, diving deep into a silky, synth-heavy world.
Overall, there is an unshakeable feeling that pierces through the walls of looping, deep, ooze-soaked sounds and the melodies that float atop them. That feeling is one of simultaneous dissonance and unity. That’s not to say that the music is dissonant, on the contrary, this is some of Tare’s more accessible work with undeniable grooves and catchy melodies that most should be able to enjoy. Some of Tare’s usual edge is also absent, with soft, gentle vocals caressing the listener in addition to his classic, rough-around-the-edges style. The arrangement of the elements of this album make for a satisfying experience that encapsulates a complex and at times paradoxical feeling.
The album opens with “What’s the Goodside?”, a pensive, melancholic track despite the upbeat instrumentation. The wet strums and plucks of Tare’s guitar echo and bubble throughout the mix, underscoring his use of bubbles as metaphors for the lives of himself and those he loves. The lyrics seem to deal with the hard reality of aging, and the way that Tare feels as he ages and moves into a stage of life that leaves him wondering, “what’s the good side?”
The theme of reflection continues throughout the LP, in tracks like “Eyes on Eyes” and “Nostalgia in Lemonade,” where Tare looks back on his past, and how he’s changed over the years, “longing for a thing that doesn’t last.” This reflection is done over smooth, rhythmic guitar lines that drip from the speakers and wet, driving synths and percussion. The vocals pierce the mix with Tare’s characteristic cross between a bumblebee, a wolf’s howl, and an operatic soprano, giving the cuts a haunting quality without sacrificing any of the inherent grooviness.
The lead single, “Saturdays (Again)” follows this trend of introspection, but turns the grooviness up to 11, with a warped, oozing synth and guitar rhythm punctuated by a catchy guitar melody and Tare’s otherworldly voice. This is easily one of the best tracks in the listing, providing an interesting commentary on the sometimes ritualistic behaviors of society, but still leaving the listener nodding their head and thinking of Saturdays. Such a song needs room to breathe, which Tare provides in the form of the instrumental track “Chilly Blue.” The siren-like synth that repeats throughout the track underneath sparkling arpeggios and the slow, somber strum of Tare’s guitar gives the track a feeling of looking out over vast, blue waters dotted with reflected sunlight.
“K.C. Yours” is a bouncy, enjoyable track that combines an upbeat, echoing instrumental with strange, reflective, and somewhat somber lyrics that all blend together to create the feeling of looking at something familiar but thinking of it differently. This is something that Tare excels at, and that talent for re-framing the mundane or shining a new light on it is evident.
In an interview with Consequence of Sound, Tare describes the track “Our Little Chapter” as a “collage,” consisting of “snippets of feelings or moments in time…” This is certainly an apt description, as the resonant, floating vocals and deep, booming instrumental mesh in a way that puts the listener into a calm, content state.
In the second single, “Taken Boy,” Tare muses about the mechanics of desire, and the things that people long for that are unattainable, or figments of their imagination. The song captures the slow, trance-like experience of being “taken by a taken girl.”
“Remember Mayan,” recounts a dream, telling a story of being a king, living in a fantastic world only to be pulled from that fantasy, much like the often jarring transition between sleep and wakefulness. Tare again gives a masterclass of impressionistic music, capturing the melancholic themes of the album in each song, but this particular cut seems to drag on, making the end of the album much less energetic.
Tare has always been the kind of musician that ties unrelated concepts together and crafts extended metaphors that, after a couple listens, paint a clear thematic picture in the listener’s mind. “HORS_” is yet another track in that vein, where Tare sings about the changing nature of society, comparing it to a horses, which were once the at the center of a huge part of people’s lives, but are now mere amusements for the most part. It’s a poignant message that inspires deeper thought as it trots along, eventually culminating a beautiful screech, marking the end of “Cows On Hourglass Pond.”
“Cows On Hourglass Pond” is an album that offers a lot to listen to, both musically, and thematically. Listening once certainly doesn’t do it justice. However, it is still flawed. The instrumentation can become dense, a problem that plagues many of the Animal Collective solo work. It seems that they have a desire to create the raw energy of Animal Collective songs, but alone, the artists can’t quite capture the same power, which leads to songs that have beautiful instrumentals, but fog the listener’s mind, making them work harder to wrap their minds around each track. The challenging nature of the music isn’t a detriment, simply a nuisance that is overcome the second time through the album.
Overall, Tare has succeeded in capturing strange feelings through the use of unique, experimental synthesis and creative, at-times bizarre lyricism, and creative guitar and sampling techniques. Many expressed doubts that Tare still had it, but “Cows On Hourglass Pond” flies in the face of that criticism, presenting a solid, enjoyable, and thought-provoking experience despite its flaws.
“Cows On Hourglass Pond” is available now on all major platforms.