Avey Tare and Panda Bear - "Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished" (Animal Records 2000, Animal 001)
From Aural Innovations #14 (January 2001)
This is definitely one of the most unique and refreshing new albums I've heard in a long time. According to their bio, this is just the first release associated with the Animal label, and it's a hell of a strong start. Panda Bear is responsible for all of the percussion and Avey handles vocals, electronics, piano and guitar. There's a central lyrical theme about childhood, nature and loss of innocence... one of my favorite topics, though I've been unable to decipher a lot of the lyrics so far, being more focused on the music... that'll probably come later, embellishing my enjoyment of the music even more. But here we go with the musical side of things.
The album kicks off with "Spirit They've Vanished", a mind-swirling electronics piece completely unlike anything I've ever heard. There's a sense of circular motion whirling about your brain, as numerous complicated, sequenced synth patterns with many varying tones and textures twist above some basic organ and the crooning vocals of Avey. Speaking of which, his style is a bit monotone and of a certain indie-pop sort that isn't my favorite, though considering the rest of his musical duties this is no slag on him, and it's hardly a hindrance to enjoying the music. It's quite effective at times, with some strong catchy melodies, though considering the length of the whole album, it might have benefited from a second voice. But this small complaint aside... following the quite disarming entrance of the (semi-) title-track is "April and the Phantom", which is somewhat of a prototype for many of the tunes to come; that is, we have percussion as tight and dynamic as most any jazz (though never busier than it should be), lilting and spacey-as-ever keyboard melodies and smooth dub-like bass rhythms - a very unique combination which works to great effect. Theirs is not a wall-of-sound and appropriately the production is crystal-clear - no shoe-gazing here! Generally this tune and similar ones that follow feature fairly often-shifting tempos, but melody and rhythm maintain high priority, so don't think of Van der Graaf Generator or anything like that.
The length of the tracks manages this balance. Track 3 is a 3-minute untitled instrumental, dominated by frenetic piano and what sounds like a mutation of a guitar and a chicken being strangled to death. Yes, along with the many sweet melodies, there are some rather harsh moments as well, so be prepared. Next is "Penny Dreadfuls", a rather mellow follow-up based upon a nicely simplistic piano melody and what seems like some tape-manipulated keyboard work. "Chocolate Girl" is superb, with more tight and delicate drum-work, electronic dub-bass, breathy space-synth and some lofty carnival-esque keyboards which are another recurring motif of the songier songs. A fairly hip-hop/techno-ish beat appears mid-way, though sounding quite unique in the above-mentioned musical context. "La Rapet" and "Bat You'll Fly" continue with these aspects, moving between up-beat parts with spacey keys and carousel-synth and slower settle-down moods. The closing track "Alvin Row" is the longest at around 12 minutes. It starts off kind of erratic free-jazz, but soon enough it's back to psychedelic lullabies-land. Its closing segment is especially powerful, the perfect finale for an album of such seriousness, the piano, keys and vocals crying so remorsefully as the drums and bass thrust to a sad adult destination... then quiet and a sampled child crying "My singing voice is gone...". Fantastic.
This is an album that could appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Highly recommended to the lot of you AI readers (and maybe some of your friends too). I can't wait to see what else arises out of the talents of these two and the rest of the small Animal collective.
For more information you can email Avey Tare and Panda Bear at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact via snail mail at 38 Bee Tree Mill Ct, Parkton, MD 21120 or 67 Atlantic Ave #2, Brooklyn, NY 11210. Phone: 718-852-5042.
Reviewed by Chuck Rosenberg