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Sunday, 2 August 2009

Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist - 'Danse Manatee' (Catsup Plate)

This is the one that blew it open, for me at least. The sound of a New York-cum-Maryland underground circa 2001: psychedelia, contemporary electronic aeffects, and spazzy freakout stuff minus the traditions of West coast composition, free jazz, minimalism, post-punk, etc. Yeah, it's a new breed that's certainly paid dividends in terms of followers, eight years later (not to mention surely some rich rewards monetarily). But here's something different indeed; a songcraft exposed but melted, finding the point at which it's something more than just deconstructing "normal" songs. The compositions themselves are damaged, so these arrangements flow naturally. Listen to 'Meet the Light Child' - or any of the songs here, really. They hadn't embraced the Sung tones yet, cause this is as cold as it gets. And it's also one of the tinniest records I've ever heard. Even when there is some low end it has a metallic shimmer, or some warbling birdcalls layered on top to cut through the thickness. The percussion here, by Mr. Panda Bear, is insanely fluid and free, reminding me at the time of Lightning Bolt (really! cause they were a big deal in 2001) but more open and less aggressive, of course. They never had such flutering cymbal work on any other record and there is an improvised feel to this despite the fleeting harmonies. And what a blast of bright white light this was. Music could be relentlessly experimental and direct at the same time! A pop hook can be an even more wonderful thing if it's the balancing beam between two avant-garde textures. And while this all sounds commonplace now, and this album has been actually kind of forgotten among their more popular works to follow, I can't help but turn back to this with the same wide-eyed wonder during which I first heard it, in a car, in late 2001. I remember the car was fairly loud - an old clunker, can't remember where I was going or who played it for me, but the finer nuances of the higher registers were completely lost to my ears thanks to the sound of wind and road noise. I was still struck by the rhythms, the singing, and the general messy structures that were still structures. When I heard it properly, while stationary, it was like a bucket of sticky glitter that I hadn't heard before was caked over most surfaces. It's easy to say that an artist was more "innocent" on their earlier work, especially if their breakthrough records found a larger audience, but I don't think that's the case here. The vocals are surely less present, so maybe you could argue for a timidity that disappeared later on, but there's nothing innocent about this music. It was made with the firmest of intentions, and lit a flame that later became a spotlight.

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