It’s been a few months since Avey Tare occupied our ears with Tangerine Reef, the Animal Collective audio-visual collaboration with avant-garde coral macro-videographers Coral Mophologic. It was a hyper-real underwater odyssey that offered up an otherworldly, magical experience. The artist’s last solo album, Eucalyptus, was released back in 2017 – another dreamlike affair that developed the palette. So, what’s going on with the always evolving David Portner? A spin of new album, Cows On Hourglass Pond, can leave us with more questions than it does answers. We mean that in the best possible way.
From the outset this is an album that requests you step into a parallel space. Intentional or otherwise, opening track, ‘What’s the Goodside’ carries a watery dissolve on the vocal track that calls back to Tangerine Reef. Beneath the beauty of the coral reef and the explorations of that last Animal Collective album there was a sense of dread. The world was collapsing. The album pointed toward the fragility of life and to the precarious nature of our planet. Here though we’re talking with less emphasis on fragility of space, and more the passing of time.
Across the ten tracks of Cows On Hourglass Pond the perspective shifts, refracts light, applies review mirrors, microscopes and telescopes to memory and imagination. References pass through the formative influences of Portner. Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly, Morricone are audible references – sometimes called out by name, other times by the shapes of production. We’ll get back to that.
Tracks like ‘Nostaligia Lemonade’, ‘Our Little Chapter’, and ‘Remember Mayan’ are all explicit references to the places and people who build and shape the mind. The nurturing force, and the influence of time are focus. The smart moves navigate away from the sentimental. So even at their most nostalgic the tracks don’t ever end up too heavily romantic. The softest-lit is perhaps ‘Nostalgia Lemonade.’ Even in this sepia-tint we’re made aware that this is an elevated otherness; a moment that never really existed in the sense in which it’s now framed. Avey Tare has always exhibited his sense of awareness. This is art, something crafted and unusual. That sentiment is served here, in spades. But don’t worry, there’s no pretense, no over-stretching. This stuff occupies it’s own space, naturally, unforced. Easily.
Production is shaped by the reel-to-reel recording process enjoyed by Portner. Calling back to the references we’d previously mentioned, there’s also something of the timbre that often escapes artists of this type. Like the music of name-checked heroes, Avey Tare allows space between instruments, microphones and voices. It’s in the space between things that stories unfold. Pauses are golden; they allow light. The relationship between performance and device is explored. No one is pretending, or over polishing process. Experimental, electronic, and pedal-heavy treatments can lean too heavily on a reliance of the mixing desk and digital intrusions. Working on tape Portner drives creative solutions toward the places he wants to explore. Things are left to breathe, and it’s brilliant.
Critics of Avey Tare have commented on the driven ‘weirdness’ of the artist, and a tonal quality that occupies a space willfully unaffected by the contemporary pull. That doesn’t sound like much of a criticism. If by ‘weird’ the charge is that things are not easy to understand, that’s all to Portner’s strength. Art of this kind loses power when explanation is offered too readily. Oddly with an album that skims through time, memory, and anticipation of the future, it could just be that Avey Tare’s avoidance of trends has delivered an album of timeliness which is also timeless. Maybe that is weird. So few others are doing it.
HURRY – BUY – AVEY TARE MUSIC