The latest textured masterpiece from Animal Collective’s Avey Tare, Eucalyptus, is a natural progression from his work on their record, Meeting of the Waters, which was recently recorded with Brian Weitz (aka the Geologist) in the Amazon. The record is packed, as a lead acoustic guitar meanders through samples of natural sounds, occasional orchestral segments, and effected vocals. By bringing in bandmate, Josh Dibb (aka Deakin) to do the recording and experiment with lo-fi drum machines with rather than a studio producer, Eucalyptus achieves a bedroom-style recording that accentuates the raw, emotive nature of the album.
As always, the creative minds associated with Animal Collective prove within each song that there is no one sound that defines them. Although David Portner’s honesty was thematic, Eucalyptus has a great range of emotion and feel. Unapologetically droning, “Season High” and “Melody Unfair” play around with panning voices, pulsing synthesizers, and complicated sample textures, all over simple acoustic guitar parts, setting the pace for the album nicely.
Recorded first in 2014 with just an acoustic guitar, these songs are fearless and display Portner’s different faces. From simple verse-chorus progressions and chant-like harmonies in “Ms. Secret” and “Boat Race,” to brighter Painting With style vocal jams like in “Jackson 5” and “Roamer,” to more experimental pieces like “Sports in July.”
Within the esoteric, personal record, there are jarring, psychedelic jams such as “Lunch Out of Order,” which is broken down into two 1-2 minute-long intermission songs, the second of which is augmented by echoed and doubled vocals that give the illusion of many voices.
“Let me take you to a place // where nothing’s all the time,” Portner riffs on a character by the name of “PJ.” This delightful and surprising track is simple, with classical, Spanish-sounding guitar that hardly conforms to a rhythm with vocals that seem to always be trying to catch up with it. This minimalist approach to psychedelia reveals the influence of bandmate Deakin’s latest solo project as well, yet the lyrics are distinctly Avey, “He grabbed me by the shoulder skin // and asked, “Is this the end? Or the beginning?” // I shouted at the cloud array // “Forever.””
Followed by “In Pieces,” which, like “PJ” is still heady and surprising, yet far more grounded in subject matter. Portner sings about the comfort of a mother koala’s arms, and pressures of his lifestyle; “No stress ‘cause I don’t have enough // the busy work to tie me like a rope around a hammock.”
“Selection of a Place” snuggles comfortably after, renewing itself as an almost entirely different song from the Rio Negro version, yet with the familiarity of an old friend. Though the samples of natural sounds seemed absolutely integral within the version released on Meeting of the Waters, without it, the elements of Avey’s solo version become far more intense.
The interesting use of sampling typically means broken up bits and repeating pieces and sounds for Animal Collective, but on the track, “Coral Lords,” Portner opts to put in an entire quote from marine biologist Colin Foord. Narrowly avoiding preachy pompousness, the quote speaks to the purpose of life; “to quantify the nature of the cosmos itself.” This grand, bombastic-sounding rhetoric is self-referential in a lot of ways, as poets often want to quantify the nature of human emotion. This connection to coral reefs sees its own higher purpose, and yet Avey’s overall candor removes the listener from this thought process.
This record feels like a stripped-down version of the maximalist efforts of Animal Collective, and gives listeners a greater understanding of the connection between Portner as an artist, his work, and the different works that the group has created together. What it boils down to is an almost child-like, transcendental fascination with the connection between humans, nature, and music as a tool of expression, and how this manifests in Portner’s life.