Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Album review: Cows on Hourglass Pond by Avey Tare

F or worse, Dave Portner (stage name Avey Tare), one of the vocalists of experimental pop quartet Animal Collective, has become, in his own roundabout, eclectic way, a pop star—the kind a crowd of strangers could find themselves head-bobbing to in concert.

Relying much more on rhythm and melody than his previous albums (2010’s Down There and 2017’s Eucalyptus), Portner’s latest LP, Cows on Hourglass Pond, takes a page from other, more pop-conscious members of the Collective.

He blends energetic, earworm songwriting with his usual, more “experimental” elements—most notably on the album’s opener, “What’s the Goodside?”, a six-and-a-half-minute-long track escalating from a bubbling swamp of a soundscape to a trance-like beat—and back, eventually, to Portner characteristically mumbling (i.e. “is, is, is…”).

Stylistically, it more directly follows Portner’s 2014, arguably horror-themed, project Enter the Slasher House, which blended characteristically-Collective heavy, eerie sampling with more accessible rhythms and textures—but the album was seen by some to be Portner’s “succumbing” to sugary sing-alongs. 

But neither Portner nor the Collective has ever really pandered; there’s always something for everybody, and Cows is less a “hybrid”of Eucalyptus and Enter the Slasher House, and more a maturation of his sound.

As with much of Animal Collective’s music, their sound often coalesces, builds and falls around itself, creating memorable, lush, breathtaking tracks almost by accident.

And much of it comes to fruition through live experimentation. This is especially apparent on Cows at the start of “Saturdays (Again),” and most other tracks, when the layers of music start to build up. 

We had the privilege last Sunday of seeing Portner (with fellow Collective member Deakin, aka Josh Dibb) live in concert up in St. Paul at the Amsterdam Bar & Hall and, having never really attended a proper Collective show, much of the group’s song development process became clear to me.

Many of the songs lasted several minutes longer than their studio counterparts and, while almost all of them came from his last couple solo albums, they morphed into different entities entirely, riding on a wave of enthusiastic concert-goers, validating their journey into fresh sounds.

It was an untouchable, almost indescribable, Grateful Dead-esque symbiotic atmosphere of risk-taking and experimentation, despite performing mostly catchy, pop-oriented tracks.

Through live performance, the album’s motifs and motives became abundantly clear and almost tangible: fears surrounding approaching middle age and the assumption of responsibilities (of all kinds).

It was stuff the Collective had explored in years past on records like 2000’s Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’re Vanished, a fairytale-like synth-fueled musing surrounding coming of age and losing innocence, arguably the group’s most strictly “concept album” of a release.

Portner et al. thickened the air until it became difficult to move, fog surrounded us and lights shined in our eyes until we couldn’t see; the audience moved and swayed with the ebbing and flowing of the set’s speed as distorted samples and low-end frequencies built up into cathartic climaxes to the point where Portner was almost guiding us—telling us how it is, leading us through his worried yet appreciative point of view.

In an interview we conducted with the duo before the show, Dibb mentioned he doesn’t like to get political with his music.

And that’s pretty accurate; the most topical the Collective has ever really gotten with their music was last year’s Tangerine Reef, a live album with a pro-environment spin.

But the group’s—and especially Portner’s—music never makes a “statement”; rather, it—as Portner has done with Cows—creates a treasure wrapped within an impression and lets you dig it up.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *