The magical thing about Animal Collective’s co-founding member Avey Tare, also known as David Portner, is his ability to make the abrasive sound beautiful. He can take piercing, droning synths fit for an industrial show and alter them until they are more fit for a relaxing summer evening of reflection and remembrance. Avey Tare showcases this prowess once again on his sixth full-length release, Cows on Hourglass Pond.
Tare kicks off the album with the remarkably abstract “What’s the Goodside.” Though a dance-inspired drum pattern drives the song, Tare has no intention of coaxing listeners to get up and dance. Instead, through the utilization of nearly indecipherable lyrics and vocals processed with effects like distortion, reverb and god knows what else, he conjures a song that is guaranteed to make listeners stop what they are doing for a chance to decode whatever meaning they believe to be hidden within the song.
This trend continues and is expanded upon as the album rolls. Songs like “Nostalgia in Lemonade” are not nearly as lyrically dense as “What’s the Goodside,” but they are just as challenging sonically. “Nostalgia in Lemonade” is simply about enjoying lemonade on a warm day, yearning for just one more sip long after the drink has been finished. Despite this straightforward message, the instrumental is anything but simple. It begins with a clipping, skipping hum that metamorphs into a buzzing synthesizer burst layered beneath a glimmering string section led by an airy guitar. The sheer contrast of these sounds is challenging enough, but further exacerbated by the fact that it is just as gorgeous as it is trance-inducing.
If the electronic instrumentals were stripped away and replaced by something more acoustic and folksy, Cows on Hourglass Pond would be fit to be performed at local folk venue The Ark. Each song on the album has the ability to call old memories to the forefront of listeners’ mind and make readers reflect on the lyrics, no matter how nonpictorial they may be. Tare’s ability to combine psychedelic folk music with the avant garde and create something completely new is truly a marvel. The album’s closing track “HORS_” is the ultimate culmination of Tare’s skill.
Unlike “Nostalgia in Lemonade” and “Chilly Blue,” “HORS_” finds Tare at his most subdued musically. Until the very end of the song, he keeps the instrumental relatively simple with a driving acoustic guitar, pulsating hand claps and chime-like keys, instead opting to experiment with his voice by messing with the elongation of each word and raising and lowering his voice at whim. The lyrics are marked by non sequiturs and verge toward the nonsensical, described by Tare himself as “an ode to horses.” As the song continues, all lyrics are replaced with unintelligible vocals and humming that would sound right at home on Bon Iver’s 22, A Million. As soon as listeners settle into this soothing section, the song disintegrates into static, providing an abrupt end to the album.
Avey Tare’s efforts on Cows on Hourglass Pond do not go unnoticed. He creates an atmosphere of curiosity and wonder in manner similar to the early work of Wallace Stevens, specifically “Comedian as the Letter C.” That is to say that album does not primarily emphasize meaning. The lyrics are still important, but they are not central to the album, which is why they are often muddled and processed. Cows on Hourglass Pond focuses instead on the form and execution of its sound, so that all listeners can find a way to relate their own nostalgia and memories to each song.